An Open Letter to the All England Lawn Tennis Club
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Dear All England Lawn Tennis Club,

I didn’t travel to Wimbledon for the latest tournament there, and I certainly didn’t sit in the Royal Box at center court beside Kate and Pippa Middleton, or even in nearby seats with tennis royalty Rod “The Rocket” Laver and Billie Jean King, both age 93 or so and looking every week of it, but fit, fit. But from the terrific view I had of all the important match-ups on my 19-inch, nearly high def TV here in the commoners’ paradise of Ohio, I could tell that an important change needs to be made in the competition. I refer to the mind-boggling difference in effort that the men needed to put forth in their matches as compared to what the women put forth, except that at Wimbledon you call the men gentlemen and the women ladies, due to your superior taste and breeding.

Put succinctly, the difference was this: while the men's matches were five-set duels between true gladiators that lasted up to six hours, with multiple tie breakers, pauses for violent weather, and consultations with trainers over severe injuries, the women’s contests were a stroll in the sun (and shade), with three-set maximums, not a single tie breaker (that I saw), no injuries or dire loss of vitality, but at most a female driven to grunting with every shot as if she were exerting herself in the bedroom. Most of the women’s matches, even at this highest level, were finished in 25 minutes, as I carefully determined by my own timing system wherein a sip of red wine or biting a pretzel counted as roughly ten-seconds. Just compare that to the hours and even days the men toiled while subject to hazardous weather and dehydration and damage to limb, while I consumed bowl after bowl of pretzels and glass after glass of wine in watching them play, and the difference couldn’t be plainer.

Take the ladies’ championship final with Serena Williams against Somechick Ludwanska, a petite but feisty young Polish lady. Serena, who appeared on my 19-inch to stand 6’ 6” and weigh 180 pounds, had a service that, to paraphrase one insightful Wimbledon commentator (Chrissie Evert, who at 63 is still sort of a fox), was about 185 miles per hour on the first serve and 135 on the slower second, equal to or exceeding in speed all of the men except Roscoe Tanner (is he still around?) With that kind of power Serena won the first set of the final even before she took off her warm-up jacket (the white one that made her look like a drum major), and didn’t actually break a sweat until the final points of the third set. The first and second sets she won solely with service aces, walking around casually and flicking her racquet at the ball when Ludwanska got one over the net. By my count the total number of strokes she used in all three sets was 86, and of these 64 were service aces. I also estimate that she danced or strolled all of 50 yards while hunting down Ludwanska’s infrequent returns. To put away the third set, Serena did trot a few times, as did the ever-game Ludwanska, but neither woman gave any sign of tiredness other than that rhythmic grunt they both emitted when striking the ball, though to be fair a few of the men grunted too, if less orgasmically. As a final insult to the spectator, Serena collapsed to the ground after achieving her never-in-doubt victory, surely not from exhaustion or even emotion, but just out of deference to those who had hoped for a hard-fought match. Had she really earned that 150,000-pound first-place check and that peck on the cheek from His Highness, the Duke of Kent? Or more importantly, did she make us believe she earned all that? I think not.

Now compare that to the men’s final, which pitted the elderly (age 30) but astonishingly nimble Roger Federer against the much younger Andy Murray (20 or so, I didn’t hear the exact figure due to my chewing a mouthful of pretzels). It took five blistering sets for old man Roger to bring the trophy home. This was a genuine match with real perspiration, dangerous tumbles to the ground, loss of composure and hairstyle, arch challenges to linesmen, genuine fatigue or at least the appearance of it, a risky racquet change, and both players getting struck by lightning and then mobbed by concerned fans several times, if I am any judge. It lasted, by my count, 250,000 strokes. Since there were only seven service aces between the two great players, that left a lot of heavy volleying to do. And to get to this grueling match, Federer had to survive a semi-final round against Julien Benneteau, a 15-hour (by my timing system) slugfest that included Benneteau blowing his thigh out, having played on it for 50,000 miles without a tune-up. Two trainers couldn’t put the damaged leg back together again, but the Frenchman kept right on swinging through 5 punishing (for him, less so for the spectators) sets. I estimate that in this match alone, Federer and Benneteau performed work equivalent to breaking up a half mile of solid concrete with a couple of jackhammers.

And so I offer the following suggestion(s). Like the men, the women should have to play the best of five sets to win. When women grow up as big and healthy as Serena Williams and the 6’ 4”, 170-pound Maria Sharapova, to name another attractive (not to say gorgeous) female hoss who participated, and have all the same biceps and penises and so forth as men, they should play the same interminable, repetitive, constantly weather-delayed game as the men. Tennis lovers who thrill to every shot will go for the idea of there being even more shots, I know it.

Either that, or limit the men to the best of three sets. That will get the men’s matches down to 20 minutes or so, in line with the women’s, with no perspiration or injuries or time-wasting drama, and you can move the games right along and be done with Wimbledon from opening ceremony to awards presentation in half a day. If you can also get the Duke of Kent to dispense with his mumbling noblesse oblige at the finale, you can perhaps get it all down to a couple of hours. If that’s still too much for those who easily tire of tennis, then forbid the ladies their rhythmic grunting and the tournament will seem to fly by.

I personally don’t care what you do, as I can either watch tennis or leave it alone, but in the name of evenhandedness and gender-equality, please do something.

Michael Fowler

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