Genie Bouchard, who was once ranked as high as No. 5 in the world, has been having a rough time on the court. She lost to 102nd-ranked Andrea Petkovic last week and 51st-ranked Donna Vekic yesterday, and her global ranking has plummeted to No. 70. This is certainly not the trajectory that either Bouchard, her team, or her fans were hoping for back in 2014 after she made the finals at Wimbledon.
And it’s because of this downward spiral that Toronto Sun columnist Steve Simmons (previously seen around these parts before, and never for anything good) has declared that the 23-year-old Canadian “may not be more than just another pretty face on the WTA tour.”
Apparently all women, if they’re fortunate enough to be deemed attractive by middle-aged male sportswriters, start out in their athletic careers as “just a pretty face.” That’s the baseline. From there, they can become more than that if they display skill at, say, MMA or golf or tennis. This is the highest compliment that can be bestowed on female athletes. I still think you’re hot, but also you’re good at sports.
But if, after a period of early success, a player fails to keep up with that early promise, they can be stripped of their “more than” status and go back to being just the pretty face. This is what has happened to Bouchard.
In order to make his case, Simmons invokes tennis’s other favorite “pretty face,” Anna Kournikova. Except that Kournikova was actually pretty good at tennis, at least for a period of time.
The implication here that Bouchard (and Kournikova before her) is overvalued and over-covered because she’s conventionally attractive. So it’s a sportswriter’s sacred duty to make sure you understand why you’re being forced to acknowledge she exists and is still playing tennis.
Listen, I get it. Sometimes athletes don’t have the careers you expect them to. And sometimes you’re forced to write 800 words even when you really don’t have anything to say. But there are non-sexist ways to make this same point. How about “one-hit wonder”? Or “flash in the pan”? Both are still pretty cruel but have the added bonus of not connecting a women’s success and longevity to her appearance.
And she’s still the 70th best women’s tennis player in the world, even at her low point, which isn’t shabby. Steve Simmons wishes he was the 70th best sportswriter in Canada.