By: Chris Dagonas
So, I was flipping through the channels Monday night and stumbled upon a tennis match. Vaguely in the back of my head, I knew that the Australian Open, the year’s first major open, was currently going on, but didn’t give it much thought. Then I looked at the scoreboard, and noticed that little Canadian flag next to the name Bouchard.
Hm. I’m intrigued.
The 19-year-old Eugenie Bouchard, born and raised in Montreal, has been on the WTA tour since 2010, but often participated in the Junior division until last year. She has defeated players like Jelena Jankovic (a former world number 1), and Sloane Stephens (who many consider to be America’s next great female player).
She was playing against Ana Ivanovic, who is a former world number one player.
I can watch this.
Bouchard went on to knock out Ivanovic in three sets that night, and lost to Li Na in straight sets last night. It’s still the greatest result in a major for any Canadian, male or female, since Carling Bassett-Seguso. (I know you had to click that link.)
Now, people who know me will attest that I have a fairly healthy knowledge of the sporting universe. I check the scores, read the analyses, and watch the highlights.
So why didn’t I know this was happening?
In the last six months, Bouchard has made incredible progress in her career. She defeated Jankovic, Ivanovic and Stephens, plus suffered tough losses to Venus Williams and Samantha Stosur. Bouchard was also awarded the WTA Newcomer of the Year for 2013. Let’s compare the attention (or lack thereof) paid to Bouchard’s last 6 months, when held up against male Canadian tennis star Milos Raonic.
Raonic entered the ATP spotlight in 2010, when he made a run to the fourth round at the Australian Open, and received lavish praise from commentators and competitors alike. That fourth round exit was Raonic’s greatest accomplishment at a major, and continues to be to this day. Aside from drawing praise for a powerful serve and being a generally likeable guy, Raonic’s career seems to have plateaued. In his past six months, he lost to Jo-Wilfred Tsonga in the Olympics, advanced to the fourth round of August’s US Open, and the third round of this year’s Australian Open.
So, I think it’s fair to say that Bouchard has made significantly more progress than Raonic, and in a shorter career.
On Monday night, after Bouchard had eliminated Ivanovic, Australian TV reporter Samantha Smith conducted the usual post-match interview:
OK, I know I’m coming at this from a white-male-privilege angle, and that might have been a terrible answer, but what the hell is up with that question? Bouchard just advanced to the semifinals of a major, and the question that comes to your mind is “OMG, who would you date lol?” That question set female athletes, and female journalists for that matter, back about 50 years. Would a male journalist even ask that question? Would a male athlete be expected to answer it?
We can all agree that female tennis players are judged unfairly for their appearance, but asking her a romantic question at the most inopportune time is indicative of a larger problem; Female athletes have to be EXCELLENT to garner the same respect from media as even the most mediocre male athletes.
While on the topic of post-game interviews, on Sunday night Richard Sherman made a great play against the San Francisco 49ers’ Michael Crabtree, a play which effectively ended the game. Roughly one minute after making that play, FOX’s Erin Andrews caught up to Sherman:
Now that is an interview worth talking about. Smith’s question to Bouchard was off-topic, uninteresting, and unimportant. Andrews, meanwhile, just came at Sherman too soon, expecting calm rhetoric from a guy just seconds after making perhaps the most important play he’s ever made.
Look, there will be plenty of time to ask Bouchard personal questions about her crushes and whatever. But five minutes after the biggest win of her life is probably not the right time. Tracking down an obviously testosterone-fueled Richard Sherman and giving him carte blanche on live TV probably isn’t a good idea either.
Journalists are increasingly looking for the edge over their counterparts, and scooping interviews immediately after a match is probably the best strategy to get the absolute fastest react quotes. Except when the questions they’re asking aren’t all that insightful, don’t give the audience much information, and make the athlete look ridiculous by putting them on the spot, especially on topics that have nothing to do with the sport.
Bouchard and Sherman will hopefully have long careers to leave behind the legacies of two off-the-cuff interview answers. But journalists are doing nothing to help breach the chasm between athlete and fan, despite what they think, by prodding for personal questions or thrusting a microphone in someone’s face minutes after the end of the game.
The media should be paying attention to Bouchard and Sherman for their tremendous athletic achievements, not their personal lives or personal squabbles with fellow players. There is more than enough to write about there, believe me.
But, for God’s sake, Eugenie, keep Justin Bieber out of any and all sports-related television programs, forever.