At the end of last year, British tennis player (now Sir) Andy Murray managed to top off an amazing year, in which he won both Wimbledon and the Olympics for a second time, by achieving and retaining the world Number One spot in the rankings. He consolidated this at the end-of-season ATP World Tour finals, at which he beat perennial rival Novak Djovokic for the title.
Yet as the ticker tape flew and Murray celebrated, it was the words of his rival which most struck me. Djokovic was polite, magnanimous, and courteous to Murray, and then proceeded to credit his wife:
He deserves to be in the moment and to take in what he achieved. His team as well – and his wife. She has to get some credit, guys. She gave birth this year. He has travelled all over the place. I know how it is with my wife, Jelena, what she had to go through as a mother back home with a little baby. So, Kim, well done. She’s maybe made even a bigger effort than Andy.
While his intentions in crediting Kim Murray with her efforts were well-intentioned, this did throw up an uncomfortable convention – praising women for their twin ‘expectations’ of supporting their husband’s ventures and bearing his children. This would be less of a problem if it weren’t for the wider sexism in society and tennis as a sport.
Thankfully, in recent years prize money has been levelled out in most major tournaments (Wimbledon the last in 2007), to bring women tennis players on a par with their male counterparts, but the media still contains many sexist comments even now. Djokovic himself opposed the equal pay decisions, sparking controversy.
By contrast, Murray is actually one of the best figures in opposing these sexist attitudes, as can be seen from his rebuttal of experienced journalist John Inverdale when he forgot the women’s game entirely. This was also clear when his choice of coach Amelie Mauresmo prompted strong responses in the media, as this was the first time a woman had coached a well-known male player, but Murray completely downplayed this in interviews.
Perhaps, rather than congratulation the support of his rivals’ wives, Djokovic might want to be more supportive of the incredible efforts and achievements of some of the women in the sport, including the remarkable Williams sisters, who recently met at the US Open final, nineteen years after their first professional match at the same venue.