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.
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.
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.
Rebel, survivor, pinup, sweetheart, pit bull, rock chick, ice queen: female tennis players sure seem to get labeled a lot. And while that kind of media sizzle makes tournaments like the U.S. Open a hot ticket, it doesn't begin to sum up the resilience and power of the sport's biggest stars. Find out what drives the greatest female players of the past 40 years, from Billie Jean King to Li Na
The five-time U.S. Open champ fights from two sets down, and staves off two match points, to reach the tournament semifinals
The New York City crowd wanted this one badly. When Roger Federer hit a ball into the net, fans shut their eyes, as if witnessing a wreck. When he won a big point, they high-fived their friends like frat boys. Federer is aging, and his most sublime tennis is behind him. And this could be his last chance to win one more U.S. Open; it would be his first since his winning five straight championships, from 2004 through 2008.
These fans left Arthur Ashe Stadium enthralled. Federer came from two sets down, and staved off two match points in the fourth, to beat surging Frenchman Gael Monfils 4-6, 3-6, 6-4, 7-5, 6-2 on Thursday night at the U.S. Open. Monfils, wearing matching neon green shirts and sneakers, was enjoying the defining run of his career. He was two points away from his first U.S. Open semifinal. But he couldn’t close out Federer, donned in his black evening wear. Not that Monfils should rue it too long. Roger, it turns out, can still be Roger.
In the first two sets, the mishits weren’t typical Federer. He had 13 unforced errors in each of the first two sets, but settled down in the third, where he committed just a single unnecessary mistake. The fourth set produced the drama. Federer broke Monfils first, to go up 2-1. But after Monfils broke right back, he screamed like a madman before starting the next service game. Federer switched rackets, perhaps to stall Monfils’ fury. When Monfils held serve with an ace, he screamed some more.
Monfils had two match points at 5-4, with Federer on serve. “When guys wish you good luck before the match,” Federer says, “that’s when you hope it kicks in.”
After Federer fought off the match points, the stadium gave him an extended ovation. “I must say tonight was actually quite emotional for me,” Federer says. “I really thought the crowds were incredible. They definitely got me through the match.” In the next game, Monfils double faulted twice, giving Federer a break. Monfils is famous for losing focus; he was right on script. Federer then closed out the set; the crowd screamed some more.
In the fifth, Monfils botched a return, giving Federer a 2-0 lead. He slumped his shoulders; his body language said the match was over. Federer ended the deciding set in just 27 minutes. Monfils said he tried to keep his emotions in check. But the mental effort left him fatigued.
“Roger just jumped on me,” says Monfils. “He changes so many times. He starts with chipping very well. I think I handed it good. So then he sticks with longer points. It was 50-50, and then he tries to come to the net very often. It was a bit better for him. Then suddenly he starts to mix everything.
“You know, that’s why he’s the greatest player. Because he can do everything.”
A rematch of this year’s Wimbledon final — Federer-Djokovic — looks likely. Federer will face Marin Cilic, from Croatia, in one semi; Novak Djokovic will play Kei Nishikori, of Japan, in the other. CBS will broadcast its last men’s final on Monday. Since 1968, the network has broadcast the Open; ESPN takes everything over next year.
If Cilic-Nishikori is CBS’s last U.S. Open match, execs will wail. The New York fans will wail even louder.
They want Roger.
For the second straight year — and just second time in history — no American men's player made the fourth round of the U.S. Open. Patrick McEnroe, America's chief talent developer, is out. What now?
Thursday night’s Roger Federer-Gael Monfils match, in the quarterfinals of the U.S. Open, should be a beauty. Federer, 33, is trying to give the New York crowd one final — maybe — ride to a title. He’s the sentimental favorite. Monfils, a thrilling player, is on the verge of delivering on his promise, and truly contending for a Grand Slam. Novak Djokovic and Kei Nishikori are already through to the semis. Marin Cilic and Tomas Berdych are fighting for another spot Thursday afternoon. There’s plenty of talent, plenty of reason to watch.
And not an American in the bunch.
American tennis, particularly on the men’s side, has been in decline for quite some time. But right now, it’s at a low point. Only twice in the 134-year history of the U.S. Open has an American man failed to make the fourth round — this year, and last year. The last American man to win a Grand Slam title was Andy Roddick, back in 2003.
The American women are more encouraging. Serena Williams, 32, is still on top, and she has cruised into this year’s Open semis. And while she was the only American woman to reach the fourth round, a stable of younger players offer promise. For example, 15-year-old CiCi Bellis became the youngest player to win an Open match since 1996.
Still, the overall lack of results are glaring. And someone had to pay. Patrick McEnroe, head of the United States Tennis Association’s player development program, announced on Sept. 3 he was resigning from the post. McEnroe is an affable TV commentator, but his media commitments were a sore spot. How can someone be fully dedicated to developing players while holding down such a high-profile second job? The USTA, a non-profit organization, was reportedly paying McEnroe top-dollar: Nearly $875,000 in 2012, according to financial documents, and more than $1 million for each of the prior two years.
The bottom-line: McEnroe wasn’t delivering on the investment. He lives in the New York, while the USTA’s main training center is in Florida. The USTA is building a new $60 million facility in the Orlando area, and even McEnroe admits that his replacement should be based in central Florida.
Whoever gets the gig faces a harrowing challenge. Young athletes see so many Americans thriving in other sports. So why pick up a racquet? “Success breeds success,” says former U.S. pro Justin Gimelstob, a board member of the ATP tour. “Doubt breeds doubt.” Gimelstob says he’s in no position to second-guess McEnroe. “I don’t believe that systems create stars,” says Gimelstob. “Star players are unique. We can’t be looking for the USTA to create a U.S. Open champ. But a system can nurture talent.”
Gimelstob, naturally, is confident. “It will turn around,” he says. “We have the resources. The tennis landscape has changed. More people are playing around the world — it’s gotten so much more competitive. We had been on top for so long. Now we just have to fight five times as hard to get it back.”
He's looking to take down Roger Federer
During the first week of the U.S. Open, I made a point of getting out to Flushing Meadow to watch Gael Monfils play. It’s almost become an annual event for me. And Monfils was once again his entertaining self. There are better players in men’s tennis, to wit, five-time U.S. Open winner Roger Federer, the No. 2 seed who will face Monfils, seeded 20th, in the quarterfinals. But nobody is more fun to watch than this Frenchman, because nobody can combine such pure athleticism with the insouciance bordering on disdain he brings to the game. When I bumped into a USTA staffer I know and told him I’d gone to watch Monfils, there was a shake of the head. “Was he moping around again?” was the question.
Only if moping around means dancing deep across the backcourt and whacking everything he reaches — and he just about reaches everything, with a combination of power and dexterity that his fellow pros openly admire. The 6-ft. 4-in Monfils is a rare combination of pointillist and power—Seurat mounted on coiled springs. In his second round match against Alejandro Gonzalez, Monfils won game two of the second set with a leaping, crosscourt forehand from the right baseline corner that was clocked at 105 mph. Think of Johnny Manziel trying to throw an accurate 75-yard jump pass across his body. Monfils applauded his own work by twirling his index finger as if to say, “oui, that’s me.” Up 3-0 in the third set, he won the fourth game by running down a Gonzalez shot into the corner and hitting a paintbrush backhand down the line that had his opponent shaking his head at the incredible touch on display. Oh, and a decent 130 m.p.h. serve.
Monfils also has the temperament of an artist. He seems like he’s not always paying attention to things like winning. His changeover routine is to mumble while looking over the crowd and to sip from a can of Coke once he’s seated. C’est la vie, eh?
“For me, tennis is a sport, you know. It’s not a job, it’s a sport,” he said in a post-match interview Tuesday, having dispatched rising star Grigor Dimitrov 7-5, 7-6, 7-5 to reach the quarters. He gave a couple of points away to Dimitrov, just because. “Sometime if I’m fed up with that, just leave it. For me, I don’t know if it’s bad to say it and for sure I will use like bad words in English, but it’s like, you know, don’t give a sheet.”
Rare among top pros, Monfils plays without a coach, meaning his strategy seems to be to do whatever. And fellow pros have criticized his game as too laid back when, given his height and speed, he should be attacking more. The don’t-give-a-sheet strategy has generally been good enough to get Monfils deep into Grand Slam tournaments, but never deep enough to win one. His best result: the semis at the French. But finding a coach that fits him hasn’t been easy, he says: “That person has to be — has to be, for me, like good, first of all, but has to be hard and also understand my personality. Because I don’t think I’m easy, but I think I’m quite a good worker.”
Monfils will have to be quite a good worker indeed to beat Federer, who is again looking like the flawless stroke machine that earned 17 major titles. Federer has beaten Monfils three times at Roland Garros, and more recently at the Western & Southern Open in Cincinnati, but lost to him at the ATP Masters in Shanghai last year. Monfils says he is definitely looking forward to the match. Maybe he’ll win, if he gets a little lucky. Maybe not.
“It’s always great,” Monfils said, “because no matter what, I will say to my children, I played against him. Even [if] I kill him, you know. And this is cool.”
Ritual In Repeat is out Sept. 9 on Communion Records+ READ ARTICLE
While the U.S. Open may be underway, music fans are excited about an entirely different kind of tennis. Alaina Moore and Patrick Riley, better known as the band Tennis, are about to drop their third album, Ritual in Repeat. Out September 9 on Communion Records, the LP blends catchy classic rock riffs with an indie pop sensibility and a dreamy lo-fi disco sound. Think: Haim’s Days Are Gone or Fleet Foxes covering ABBA.
To craft the album, the husband-and-wife duo reconnected with some of the best producers in rock — the Black Keys’s Patrick Carney, Spoon’s Jim Eno, and The Shins’ Richard Swift. While the band has worked with each of the producers before — Carney produced their 2012 album Young & Old and Eno and Swift worked on their Small Sound EP —this effort sees the band moving from their poppy doo-wop surf rock into slightly harder terrain. Moore told Relix: “It’s been a really long, arduous quest. We’ve been all over the map with the recordings and even our writing. We started off so narrow and only wrote lo-fi surf pop. Everything had a surf-beat. We only had three instruments and everything was so specific that now, as we’ve grown, we are trying to challenge ourselves and transform musically.”
On the heels of singles “I’m Callin'” and “Never Work For Free,” TIME is premiering the video for an acoustic version of their latest track, “Bad Girls.” Watch now, pre-order the album and be sure to catch the band on tour this fall.
Here’s the Ritual in Repeat Tracklist:
1. Night Vision
2. Never Work For Free
3. Needle And A Knife
4. I’m Callin’
5. Bad Girls
7. Viv Without The N
8. Wounded Heart
9. This Isn’t My Song
10. Solar On The Rise
11. Meter & Line
September 18 /// St. Louis, MO /// The Ready Room
September 19 /// Louisville, KY /// Headliners Music Hall
September 20 /// Atlanta, GA /// Terminal West
September 22 /// Orlando, FL /// The Social
September 24 /// Carrboro, NC /// Cat’s Cradle
September 25 /// Washington, DC /// The Black Cat
September 26 /// New York, NY /// Webster Hall
September 27 /// Northampton, MA /// Pearl Street
September 29 /// Cambridge, MA /// The Sinclair
September 30 /// Philadelphia, PA /// Underground Arts
October 2 /// Montreal, Canada /// La Vitrole
October 3 /// Toronto, Canada /// Virgin Mobile Mod Club
October 4 /// Columbus, OH /// A&R Music Bar
October 5 /// Chicago, IL /// Lincoln Hall
October 7 /// Minneapolis, MN /// Fine Line Music Cafe
October 17 /// Salt Lake City, UT /// Urban Lounge
October 18 /// Boise, ID /// Knitting Factory
October 20 /// Seattle, WA /// Neumos
October 21 /// Vancouver, Canada /// Fortune Sound Club
October 22 /// Portland, OR /// Wonder Room
October 24 /// San Francisco, CA /// Great American Music Hall
October 25 /// West Hollywood, CA /// Troubadour
October 26 /// San Diego, CA /// The Casbah
October 29 /// Phoenix, AZ /// The Crescent Ballroom
November 1 /// Austin, TX /// Red 7
November 2 /// Dallas, TX /// The Loft
November 4 /// Lawrence, KS /// Granada Theater
November 5 /// Omaha, NE /// The Waiting Room
November 7 /// Denver, CO /// Bluebird Theater
But don't get excited. You won't be able to buy them until early 2015
Fashion guru Ralph Lauren has sought to morph fashionable sportswear into wearable technology with the launch of the Polo Tech smart shirt, which is being worn by some ball boys at this year’s U.S. Open tennis tournament.
The compression garment comes with technology from a Canadian firm, OMsignal, that feeds detailed information about a wearer’s heart rate, breathing, activity and so on directly to a smartphone or tablet.
Silver-yarn-based sensors gauge athletic performance by measuring the expansion and compression of the wearer’s chest along with electrical changes associated with heart rate. The information is collected in a small black-box-type recorder, which can be removed when the garment needs to be thrown into the washing machine.
While the Polo Tech shirt is making a splash at the U.S. Open, the public won’t be able to purchase it until the spring.
Veteran U.S. Open ballboys and ballgirls relive their best and worst moments on the court+ READ ARTICLE
Zach Rosenblatt works in investor relations at a hedge fund in New York City. Every summer, he spends his vacation days chasing after tennis balls.
Rosenblatt, 28, is entering his 15th year as a U.S. Open ballperson.
He’s just one of hundreds of athletic young men and women who silently crouch on the edges of the courts, retrieving balls, handing players towels, and shielding them from the sun — with umbrellas — during changeovers.
“One thing that I think the public doesn’t understand is that it’s hard on your bodies,” Rosenblatt says. “You start when you’re 14, but I’m 28 — a lot of us are up there, [in our] mid-20s, and it hurts.”
It could be an unexpected missed ball that pegs you in the chest at 117 m.p.h., or Federer (a former ball boy himself) hitting a ball right at you just to test your reflexes — the range of stories, along with potential injuries, are endless.
But there are rewarding moments as well. Laray Fowler, 30, who’s been a ballperson for 16 years, was on the court the moment her favorite player, Kim Clijsters, won her first grand slam in 2005.
After the game, Clijsters found Fowler, who had been working for all her matches leading up to the final, and gave her a hug.
“We started crying a little bit,” Fowler says. “And I told her this was the best moment of my life, and it’s something I would never forget.”
Understandably, there are also stories that ballpersons would rather not repeat to the press about some not-so-nice players. But the general consensus seems to be that the perks make the job well worth it. Says veteran ballperson Nathan Hollins: “It’s just probably the best seat in the house.”
Gibson was the first African-American to win the U.S. Nationals and Wimbledon tennis championships
Gibson, who was born on Aug. 25, 1927, was the first black person to take the title at Wimbledon and the U.S. Nationals. The Harlem-raised Gibson was also the first African-American named the Associated Press Female Athlete of the Year in 1957; she won again in 1958.
TIME wrote of Gibson in 1957: “Lean, tall and well-muscled (5 ft. 10½, 144 Ibs.), Althea Gibson is not the most graceful figure on the courts, and her game is not the most stylish. She is apt to flail with more than the usual frenzy, and she often relies on ‘auxiliary shots’ (e.g., the chop and slice). But her tennis has a champion’s unmistakable power and drive.”
Gibson died in October 2003 in East Orange, N.J.