The call is coming from inside the house. Last night, the French Open’s first ever female director and former No. 1 player Amélie Mauresmo told the press that men’s tennis has “more appeal” than the women’s game right now, which was why 9 of the 10 primetime night sessions were scheduled for men’s matches. Only a single night featured a women’s match, during which France’s Alizé Cornet defeated Jelena Ostapenko. And Mauresmo, in her first year as the first female director of the tournament, decided to tell the world that, as a former women’s player, she didn’t think that the women’s matches deserved top billing.
This is such a disappointing sentiment to hear from a former star who one would think would attempt to be lifting up and championing the women’s game rather than tearing them down simply because the Williams sisters aren’t on the courts for this tournament. Rather than help grow interest in women’s tennis, Mauresmo has now given voice and legitimacy to all the trolls out there who love to say that women’s sports are, by nature, worse or more boring or lower-standard than men’s sports.
Instead of a “who cares” or “nobody watched” in the replies to an ESPN tweet about some women’s game or another, there’s now a direct citation at the ready from a former female player about how the women’s game isn’t as good as the men’s, even if she just meant it regarding this specific tournament.
Current No. 1 and 2020 French Open champion Iga Swiatek said that she was disappointed and surprised to hear Mauresmo’s comments, saying the women’s game “may also be something that is really appealing and it may really attract more people.” To have to defend your sport and life’s work must be a very disheartening moment.
And even though the biggest of the big names might not be playing this week, how else is the sport meant to grow and create new and upcoming stars if no one is even given the chance to prove themselves on a widely-watched world stage? Last year’s U.S. Open champion Emma Raducanu was totally unknown in the tennis world before her performance, but when everyone learned her story and started following along, she became a household name for fans of the sport.
The tournament also featured upcoming American star Coco Gauff, who is on the hunt for her first slam victory, Martina Trevisan, who returned to the sport after a four-year hiatus in which she overcame anorexia, and, of course, Swiatek, who is one win away from tying the longest winning streak in women’s tennis since 2000 after notching her 34th win in a row today. There’s some appeal for you.
Mauresmo had plenty of talented women’s players with interesting and inspiring narratives to choose from, but I guess it wasn’t exciting enough to earn the prime-time slot. While public interest drives these decisions to an extent, it is also the executives’ responsibility to pique and expand public interest in the sport.
To really top it off, Mauresmo was France’s captain in the Billie Jean King Cup after her retirement, named after the famous player and pioneer who fought tooth and nail to bring women’s tennis into the professional sports sphere. Bit ironic, no?