TIME tennis

Tennis Star Andy Murray Is Engaged

Kim Sears and Wimbledon champion Andy Murray, after the presentation of the Freedom of Stirling, presented to Murray at a special council meeting at his old school, Dunblane High, in his home town on April 23, 2014.
Kim Sears and Wimbledon champion Andy Murray, after the presentation of the Freedom of Stirling, presented to Murray at a special council meeting at his old school, Dunblane High, in his home town on April 23, 2014. Andrew Milligan—PA Wire/Press Association Images/AP

The tennis star will marry long-time girlfriend Kim Sears

(LONDON) — Andy Murray is to marry long-time girlfriend Kim Sears.

The former Wimbledon and U.S. Open champion’s management company confirmed the engagement.

Earlier Wednesday, the 27-year-old Scot announced further changes to his professional support team by splitting with assistant coach Dani Vallverdu and fitness trainer Jez Green.

Murray hired Amelie Mauresmo as his coach in June, three months after parting ways with Ivan Lendl.

Mauresmo’s position has been under scrutiny in Britain after Murray was eliminated from Wimbledon and the U.S. Open in the quarterfinals this year, then lost 6-0, 6-1 to Roger Federer in the ATP Finals in London.

Vallverdu has been a close friend of Murray’s for more than a decade since meeting at an academy in Spain.

TIME tennis

Back Injury Forces Roger Federer Out of ATP World Tour Final Match

Roger Federer looks up during his singles ATP World Tour Finals semifinal tennis match against Switzerland’s Stan Wawrinka at the O2 Arena in London on Nov. 15, 2014.
Roger Federer looks up during his singles ATP World Tour Finals semifinal tennis match against Switzerland’s Stan Wawrinka at the O2 Arena in London on Nov. 15, 2014. Tim Ireland—AP

Novak Djokovic has now won his third consecutive title, the first player to do so since Ivan Lendl did from 1985-87

Novak Djokovic won his third consecutive ATP World Tour title after Roger Federer dropped out before the finals because of a back injury.

33-year-old Federer, who who has won the tournament six times, confirmed his exit after the doubles presentation ceremony on Sunday, the BBC reports.

“I tried everything I could last night and today — painkillers, rest — until the very end, but I can’t compete at this level with Novak,” he said at the O2 Arena. “In a final like this and at my age, it would be too risky. I hope you understand.”

On Saturday Federer defeated Stan Wawrinka in the semifinal match, though he began showing signs of the injury toward the end. He later did not show up for a scheduled Sunday practice.

[BBC]

TIME tennis

Serena Williams Blasts Official’s ‘Sexist’ and ‘Racist’ Remarks

TENNIS-WTA-SIN
World number one Serena Williams of the US attends a press conference ahead of the Women's Tennis Association (WTA) championships in Singapore on October 19, 2014. World number one Serena Williams lashed out at "sexist" and racist" comments from the head of Russian tennis October 19 after he jokingly called her and her sister Venus the "Williams brothers". AFP PHOTO / ROSLAN RAHMAN (Photo credit should read ROSLAN RAHMAN/AFP/Getty Images) ROSLAN RAHMAN—AFP/Getty Images

Russian Tennis Federation head Shamil Tarpischev called the Williams sisters the "Williams brothers" and added "it's scary when you really look at them"

Tennis star Serena Williams commended the Women’s Tennis Association for disciplining the head of the Russian Tennis Federation for his “sexist as well as racist” remarks on a Russian television program.

The WTA suspended Shamil Tarpischev for a year and fined him $25,000 after he referred to Williams and her sister, fellow tennis champion Venus Williams, as the “Williams brothers” and said “it’s scary when you really look at them,” the Washington Post reports.

“I think the WTA did a great job of taking initiative and taking immediate action to his comments,” Williams said in Singapore on Sunday at the WTA Tour Finals. “I thought they were very insensitive and extremely sexist as well as racist at the same time. I thought they were in a way bullying. ”

Tarpischev, who is a member of the International Olympic Committee, said the comments were a “joke” in a statement.

“I didn’t want to offend any athlete with my words,” he said. “I regret that this joke has garnered so much attention. I don’t think this incident deserves so much fuss.”

[Washington Post]

TIME tennis

Li Na, China’s Tennis Superstar, Announces Her Retirement

Li Na of China reacts after defeating Paula Kania of Poland in their women's singles tennis match at the Wimbledon Tennis Championships, in London
Li Na of China reacts after defeating Paula Kania of Poland in their women's singles tennis match at the Wimbledon Tennis Championships, in London June 23, 2014. Stefan Wermuth—Reuters

"As hard as it’s been to come to this decision, I am at peace with it," Li said. "I have no regrets."

Li Na, the Chinese sporting superstar credited with buoying the prestige of Asian tennis to Grand Slam heights, announced her retirement on Friday, citing long-term and worsening knee injuries.

“Representing China on the tennis court was an extraordinary privilege and a true honor,” wrote Li in a letter to fans posted to Facebook.

But, she said, “my body is begging me to stop the pounding.”

“As hard as I tried to get back to being 100%, my body kept telling me that, at 32, I will not be able to compete at the top level ever again,” said Li, who has had four knee surgeries. “The sport is just too competitive, too good, to not be 100%.”

Li, who was recently profiled in a TIME cover article, has had a complicated relationship with her home nation, winning superstar fame as a rebellious, free spirit, and putting Chinese state-controlled media in the nebulous position of both applauding her accomplishments and castigating her for “unbridled willfulness.”

“The tennis star is more than a global sports icon — she inspires millions of Chinese as a symbol of independence and freedom,” wrote TIME’s Hannah Beech this spring.

In 2011, Li won the French Open to become the first Asian to win a Grand Slam singles title, and she went on to claim another Grand Slim title at the Australian Open this January. At the height of her career, she was ranked world No. 2, behind Serena Williams.

Meanwhile, the number of women’s tennis events in China has over the past decade gone up from two to 10, Li said in her post.

“I’ve seen change happening in front of my eyes, young girls picking up tennis racquets, setting goals, following their hearts and believing in themselves,” she said.

TIME Scotland

Tennis Champ Andy Murray is Backing Scottish Independence

Britain Scotland Celebrities
In this Friday, June 27, 2014, file photo, Andy Murray of Britain gestures between points as he plays Roberto Bautista Agut of Spain in their men's singles match at the All England Lawn Tennis Championships in Wimbledon. Sang Tan—AP

As polling opens, Murray uses Twitter to urge a Yes vote

Game, set and match to Scottish independence? Hours before polling stations opened in Scotland this morning, Scottish tennis star Andy Murray finally revealed his support for the Yes campaign, saying that the negative campaign tactics of the No camp had swung his views. “Huge day for Scotland today!” he tweeted to 2.71 million followers.

For much of the referendum campaign, the pro-union Better Together camp has been guilty of complacency, assuming that its hefty poll lead was solid. In the final weeks ahead of the vote, as the polls narrowed to within touching distance and then narrowed again, that complacency has turned to panic. The panic has revealed how little the No campaign understands about why it has lost ground.

In order to try to shore up support for the union, Better Together dispatched the very people that have helped push voters into the Yes camp—politicians from the U.K. parliament in Westminster—to trot out exactly the arguments that, if polls are right, have failed to convince at least half of Scotland.

So Scottish voters have been treated to a visit from Prime Minister David Cameron, who came close to tears in begging for them to preserve the union. (Inevitably voices in the Yes camp suggested he was crying because there will be calls for his resignation if Scotland goes.)

Cameron’s predecessor, Gordon Brown, a Scot, was also wheeled out to make a last-minute plea for unity. And the Labour Party leader, Ed Miliband, was forced to abandon a campaigning stroll in Edinburgh amid heckling, though not before he “made an ill-judged stop in front of a Supercuts hair salon, which prompted a cry of: ‘Supercuts, that’s what you get from the Westminster government’,” as the Daily Telegraph reported.

To be fair, the No campaign has always been at a disadvantage. Its leaders just didn’t understand that fact. All they had on their side was sober-sided logic and the law of unintended consequences that states an independent Scotland won’t be anything like the utopia its proponents suggest.

Supporters of independence have so much more than that: positivity—they get to vote Yes, not No—and romance, excitement, the shimmering chimera of something beautiful and self-created, plus some really powerful heroes. The most potent champion of the union is not even Scottish: it’s the English author J.K. Rowling, who is a longtime Scottish resident, and whose intervention earned her some trolling by so-called “cybernats” (technologically enabled, if emotionally restricted, Scottish nationalists).

The Yes campaign, by contrast, has been able to summon up a whole range of Scottish figures in its support, from the heavily mythologized “Braveheart” William Wallace and Robert the Bruce to the best-ever James Bond and a Hollywood actor who probably should have been James Bond.

Andy Murray—Olympic tennis gold medallist 2012, Wimbledon winner 2013—may not only be the last famous Scot to come out for independence, but the one with the greatest power to sway wavering voters, partly because, as his tweet made clear, he too wavered before deciding how he would vote if he could. (He isn’t a Scottish resident so doesn’t have a ballot.)

Murray also perfectly encapsulates the relationship between Scotland and the rest of the U.K. that is to be tested today. He didn’t like it when the Scottish National Party leader Alex Salmond tried to use his Wimbledon victory to further the cause of independence, but he may have liked his coverage by the London-based British media even less. For years, these news organizations gave him a hard time for being, in their terms, too Scottish: undemonstrative, occasionally dour. Then he started winning and the same media tried to colonize him.

Now he may have delivered an ace.

TIME tennis

Who Is Kei Nishikori?

Kei Nishikori is Japan's newest super star, sky-rocketing to fame seemingly overnight, after beating Novak Djokovic and advancing to the U.S. Open Men's Finals

TIME

Remembering Fred Perry’s Reign of Dominance at the U.S. Open

Fred Perry: Sept. 3, 1934
Fred Perry on the Sept. 3, 1934, cover of TIME Keystone / TIME

The English star won three U.S. Open championships in four years to cement his status amongst tennis' all-time greats

In 2012, Andy Murray became just the third British man in history to win the U.S. Open title. The first was Lawrence Doherty in 1903. Neither repeated as champion and neither was the greatest British tennis player of all time. That distinction belongs to Fred Perry, who captured the U.S. championship three times in four years (1933, 1934 and 1936) to go along with three Wimbledon titles and one each at the Australian and French Opens. Each British star to gain some degree of prominence in that last 80 years has lived in his shadow — one that somehow seems to grow with each successive year.

But in 1933, Perry was no legend. When the 24-year-old arrived in Forest Hills, N.Y. — then the site of the National Singles Championship, as the event now called the U.S. Open was known until the 1960s — he had no Grand Slam titles to his name. He was simply trying to do what no British man had done in 30 years: win a U.S. title. He had come close in previous years, reaching the fourth round twice and the semifinals once, but had yet to make so much as a major final. That changed in September 1933, when he defeated Australian Jack Crawford, who had already completed three legs of the Grand Slam that year. It was no easy task for Perry, who had to come back from being down two sets to one to claim the championship. Here’s how TIME described the action after the third set was completed:

With judicial composure [Crawford] strolled to the marquee where his plump wife was smiling, chatted for ten minutes, while Perry went to change his flannels for ducks that would flap less in the wind. With a crowd to watch him, Perry, like Borotra, gives an impression of being debonair, lighthearted, only incidentally concerned with winning. In reality, even more than most crack players, he is deadly serious about tennis. Determined to win one important championship in 1933, he had trained a whole year for last week’s final.

Perry did win that championship, claiming the final two sets — ensuring that, though Crawford had been the tennis star to make TIME’s cover on the occasion of the 1933 Open, Perry was cover material in 1934. He lost just one more match at Forest Hills (in the 1935 semifinals) over the course of his amateur career. His five-set victory over Don Budge in 1936 was his last major victory before turning pro near the end of that year.

Though a Brit will not be winning this year’s U.S. Open (Murray was eliminated by top-seeded Novak Djokovic in the quarterfinals), there’s still ample hope that the finals live up to some of Perry’s more epic matches on America’s grandest tennis stage.

Read TIME’s 1934 cover story about Fred Perry here, in TIME’s archives: Tennists to Forest Hills

TIME tennis

Martina Navratilova Proposes to Her Girlfriend on Big Screen at U.S. Open

2014 US Open Celebrity Sightings - Day 13
Martina Navratilova, right, and Julia Lemigova celebrate their engagement during the 2014 U.S. Open in New York City on Sept. 6, 2014 Uri Schanker—GC Images/Getty Images

The tennis icon proposed to her longtime girlfriend, former Russian beauty queen Julia Lemigova, between the two men’s semifinal matches

There were probably few better places for Martina Navratilova to make a major life announcement than the U.S. Open, where she won four singles titles and nine doubles titles during a tennis career still considered one of the best in tennis folklore.

The Czech-American icon proposed to her longtime girlfriend, former Russian beauty queen Julia Lemigova, in a TV suite between the two men’s semifinal matches at Flushing Meadows, in New York City, on Saturday. Their engagement was broadcast on the arena’s big screen as legions of tennis fans cheered the couple on, Australia’s 9news reported.

“I was very nervous. It came off, and she said yes,” Navratilova, who still holds the records for most singles and doubles titles in the Open era, told the Associated Press.

Same-sex marriage is not yet legal in Florida, where the couple resides and hopes to tie the knot, but a judge recently ruled that the state’s ban is unconstitutional. Navratilova and Lemigova, who have been together for six years, said they expect the law will change within a year.

Coincidentally, current world No.1 Serena Williams equaled the Navratilova’s record of 18 Grand Slams when she won the U.S. Open a few hours after the proposal. Williams joins Navratilova and Chris Evert in the record books, and will surpass them if she wins another title.

However, that’s probably the last thing on Navratilova’s mind right now.

TIME tennis

Kei Nishikori Becomes First Asian Male Player to Reach Grand Slam Singles Final

Kei Nishikori became the first Asian male player to reach a Grand Slam singles men’s final Saturday, upsetting number one Novak Djokovic in the U.S. Open semifinals. Nishikori will now go on to play Marin Cilic, who bested crowd favorite Roger Federer at Arthur Ashe Stadium in Flushing, Queens, at the men’s singles final on Monday.

TIME

Why Tennis Is the Most Popular Women’s Sport

TEN-US OPEN-WILLIAMS-PENNETTA
Serena Williams of the US celebrates the first set point against Flavia Pennetta of Italy during their US Open 2014 women's quarterfinals match at the USTA Billie Jean King National Center September 3, 2014 in New York. Don Emmert—AFP/Getty Images

More than any other sport, female tennis players have been gaining on men in terms of prize money and skill

In the women’s final of the U.S. Open on Sunday, Caroline Wozniacki will face off against Serena Williams. But if Williams had her druthers, the match would be determined in five sets, not three.

Men usually play best of three on the circuit, but at the Open and other Grand Slam events, they play best of five. Not so for women, who still play best of three despite protests from a few players like Williams who believe they can do more. “We women are strong, ready, willing and able,” tournament favorite Williams told the New York Times. “All the women players have agreed to it, but it’s not what [the tournaments] want at this time.”

While it’s a long shot that the women’s game will move to best of five set matches, the five vs. three debate is one of the final frontiers for women tennis players striving for equality in the sport. Women tennis players earn more money, endorsements and TV face time than any other female athletes. And they have been gaining on their male counterparts in terms of prize money and skill.

Since 2007, when Wimbledon and the French Open joined the other two Grand Slams in offering equal prize money for men and women players, tennis has etched away at gender barriers. Should Williams hoist the winner’s trophy Sunday, she would take home a cool $4 million, the biggest paycheck ever for the winner (male or female) of a single tennis tournament. That’s because her $3 million prize money would be augmented considerably by the fact that she won the U.S. Open series, the North American tournaments that lead up to the final Grand Slam, which awards an extra $1 million if its winner goes on to take the U.S. Open.

Take the tennis serve. Last month, German player Sabine Lisicki hit a serve at 131 miles per hour, setting a new record for the fastest serve in women’s tennis. (Venus Williams previously held the record at 129 mph.) Though that’s still a far cry from the men’s fastest serves ever recorded—Sam Groth at 163.7 mph followed by Andy Roddick at 149 mph—that’s still the speed at which Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal usually serve. And women are quickly getting better: the top 10 fastest serves recorded in the WTA were all hit in the last seven years. Scientists have posed many theories as to why women’s serves becoming more powerful, but one thing is clear: it’s not the racquets that are improving, it’s the women.

In other sports, women that exhibit skills that come close to those of men are considered an anomaly: 13-year-old Little League pitcher Mo’ne Davis made the cover of Sports Illustrated for throwing baseball pitches as fast as the boys (around 70 miles per hour); Dallas Mavericks’ owner Mark Cuban made headlines in 2013 when he said he might draft Brittney Griner—who dunked 18 times during her college career, a skill usually reserved for men; and Danica Patrick gets as much coverage as superior male drivers simply because she’s a woman competing in a male sport. Though the media has extolled Andy Murray for hiring former player Amélie Mauresmo as a coach—the only woman listed on the coaching staff for a top 40 ranked player—the move has caused less of a stir than the San Antonio Spurs hiring Becky Hammon, the first woman to coach during the NBA regular season, if only because the men’s and women’s games are more similar in tennis than in basketball.

 

Little League World Series
Starting pitcher Mo’ne Davis #3 of Pennsylvania pitches during the 2014 Little League World Series at Lamade Stadium on Aug. 20, 2014 in Williamsport, Penn. Drew Hallowell—MLB Photos/Getty Images

The sad fact is women are stuck playing sports originally designed for men. “Basketball, football, baseball, hockey, lacrosse, volleyball, tennis, poker, NASCAR, and anything else you can think of were created during a time when women were expected to be at home preparing dinner and taking care of the six children while the men were out trying to get their balls into another team’s holes,” Rick Paulas argued in Vice last year. “So, instead of the winner of a sport contest being determined by skills that women excel in (an extremely small sample based on my own experiences: flexibility, agility, nimbleness, intelligence, an insane pain threshold, investment strategies, teamwork, just f***ing living longer), they were geared towards categories like ‘I can push you further’ and ‘I can jump higher than you can jump.'”

The consequences are that women’s sports are not as popular as men’s, and female athletes struggle more than men to get big endorsement deals—even if they’re at the top of their field.

Only three women cracked this year’s Forbes 100 Highest Paid Athletes list, and all three—Maria Sharapova, Li Na and Serena Williams—were tennis players. It’s not that tennis is more lucrative than other professional sports: only three male tennis players made the list too. Women’s tennis is just more popular than any other women’s sport.

And it’s not just superstars like Williams who are benefiting from the closing pay gap. A Quartz analysis of male vs. female tennis player earnings found that there is a gap at the top of the pack—the top man, Roger Federer, has won $82 million from tournaments, while the top woman, Serena Williams, has earned only $56 million— things even out in the middle: Martina Hingis is the 11th highest earner in women’s tennis with $20.3 million from tournaments, compared to the $20.6 million earned by the men’s 11th highest earner, Andy Roddick.

Tennis tournaments have done more than just offer equal pay: the sport is structurally set up to give women an equal opportunity at drawing a crowd. They play at the same time as the men in the big tournaments, and nowadays networks will broadcast as many women’s Grand Slam games as men’s. Being treated similarly to men imbues women’s tennis with inherent value: fans will argue that though women’s tennis is different than men’s, its individual merits make it equally fascinating.

But others say the sport is popular–and female tennis players get the most endorsements—because the women still play in short skirts. The latter explanation would explain why Anna Kournikova racked up $15 million despite never winning a major title. (She is perhaps most famous for a computer virus promising nude pictures of the tennis player in 2001.) This Amy Schumer sketch captures the dichotomy pretty clearly:

It’s arguments like this that have some execs at the WNBA proposing tighter uniforms with shorter shorts. Unfortunately, there are few other ways that the WNBA could mimic women’s tennis to create productive change: playing WNBA games directly after NBA games would be unlikely to draw a bigger audience, and the league simply cannot afford to pay its players equal to NBA players. (BuzzFeed recently compiled a list of 52 NBA players who have higher salaries than all the players in the WNBA combined—and that doesn’t even count endorsement deals.)

Women’s tennis is in a unique position to gain more attention and dollars: all the more reason to even the playing field and let women play five sets.

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