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LaRosa's Sweet Spot: Feb 2, 2011

2/2/2011 2:00:00 PM

LaRosa's Sweet Spot Archive |


To: Women
From: Me
On behalf of: Men
Subject: Sorry

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First of all, let me say, well done. After one very bleak period (known in the future as the Dark Ages), women’s tennis finally dug itself out of the hole it hurled itself into (or maybe it just fell in like Baby Jessica), not only producing some ridiculously impressive performances at the Australian Open, but totally owning the dudes and lighting a big fuse for the rest of the season.

As a fan of women’s tennis (no, seriously), I couldn’t be happier. Partly because I enjoy seeing women beat the crap out of each other (see: my VHS collection of 80’s soap operas, G.L.O.W., the Gorgeous Ladies of Wrestling, and every series on Bravo). But also partly because I was sick of defending it to people. ‘They get paid how much? To play like that?’ Then it spun out into an equal prize money debate that always left me hunched over grabbing my junk waiting for the pain to pass.

But now, It’s Alive!  I can walk into a sports bar guilt and cup-free, point to the TV screen and say ‘See those women? Yeah, that’s my sport.’ Holla at your boy.

And yet, while fans are happier for the ramp up in play, there’s an underlying buzz that maybe, just maybe, it doesn’t make as big a difference as it could big picture. Why? Because the players saving the day aren’t ‘marketable’. Read: they ain’t cute.

Now cute can mean physically attractive. It can also mean young. It can also mean coquettish, or giggly, or speaking in perfect American English. The one universal definition at the end of the day: cute means $$$.

Take dynamo Francesca Schiavone. While I can strongly argue that she blew away the competition in the 2010 YEC group photo, I can’t argue that she’s 30, 5’5” (and a half!) and that English is maaaybe her second language. What’s undeniable is she was by far the most inspiring player of 2010, and is so far leading the charge in 2011 by winning what was by all accounts the single best match of the Australian Open, men’s or women’s.

So how much does she earn in endorsements?

People need to bet on Schiavone

I can tell you what she doesn’t earn, and that’s Sharapova money. And I don’t mean Sharapova money today. The Catholic Church doesn’t earn that. I’m talking about July 2004 Sharapova money. I remember watching that Wimbledon final and thinking, holy hell, that girl is going to make BANK. And she did.

Caroline Woznacki was making bank even before she was a No 1, when she had only one major final to her name.  Stella McCartney couldn’t snatch her and Maria Kirilenko up quick enough to toss her rags on (while I want to be clear in that I’m not degrading Wozniacki, Kirilenko or Sharapova or their results in any way, I am certainly degrading everything Stella McCartney’s ever designed for a tennis court). Ana Ivanovic was in the middle of a brutal slump when she signed her very cha-chingy lifetime contract with Adidas.

Meanwhile, Svetlana Kuznetsova is a 2-time major champ and the other half of that epic 2011 Australian Open match (which, incidentally, ESPN2 left Sharapova’s match in the gutter to cover), and I’ve yet to see her in a single advert. Maybe I’m just not buying the right magazines.

Melanie Oudin went swimming in endorsements after her 2009 US Open run, with companies including BackOffice Associates, AirTran Airways and Virgin Mobile, all on the strength of one quarterfinal. Kaia Kanepi made two last year. How much is she cashing in?

Being tall, blonde and thin has its privileges. And those aren’t my words. They’re Marion Bartoli’s back in 2010, ruing her lack of sponsorships despite better results at the time than the Russian. Marion told me she wants her second career to be in branding, helping the girls who aren’t asked first to the dance to get their due. I sincerely hope she does.

Don’t get me wrong, I don’t begrudge anyone for cashing in. If the money’s there (and it absolutely is – tennis is the most lucrative sport for female athletes), you take it. I’m also not pitting any players against each other or, again, taking swipes at anyone’s results - if I’ve brought you up here at all, you’ve done something right. I’m also not naïve enough to be outraged. This is the way this patriarchal society works.  When it comes to the women on tour who aren’t Nike’s baby, who don’t smirk in Rolex ads, who aren’t Glamazons, what I do feel is bad enough to say sorry, and to hope we get it right someday.

Maybe there’s some Madison Avenue brand exec who can take another look at Francesca Schiavone, feel what we feel when we see her play and be smart enough to bet on her. Bet on her epic fight, her epic personality, and her epic ability to inspire. Maybe.  In the meantime, to those women who are doing the true heavy lifting right now on the tennis courts, and are doing it without the full glory, full respect and full reward$, know this: When the dance is coming up, you’ll be the first one I ask.

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Follow James at twitter.com/JamesLaRosa.