Amélie Mauresmo: tough times for tennis
Interview by Vincent Cognet for l’Equipe, translation by Tennis Buzz:
Q: Are you interested in this controversy over equal prize money in tennis or does it bother you?
It annoys me, for sure! I see no reason to change that. What bothers me is the cyclical side of this controversy. Beside that, there are some valid points. The men’s tour is actually more attractive than the women’s tour. There is no debate: probably three of the six greatest players in history are playing at the same time. The women’s tour has seen a period like this, ten years ago. What I don’t understand is that money earned by women is not earned to the detriment of men… So where’s the problem? Obviously, Roger, Rafa and Novak are carrying all of tennis, including women’s tennis that is not at that level. But why shouldn’t everyone profit from it? I find this discussion very sterile.
Q: But you understand the players’ position …
If we speak of the Grand Slams, it is understandable. They play best of five, it’s not the same format … Valid argument. I understand it well because I am rather favorable that women play best of five sets in the final rounds. Ot that men play best of three in the early rounds of the tournament. There aren’t many balanced matches in the first week. At the same time, adding a third set for the women could make the semis or finals more interesting.
Q: Do you think this debate exhales reeks of machismo or sexism?
Society as a whole is still and always sexist. We have the chance to play in a sport where equality is defended. We even may be trailblazers. And I’m happy about it.
Q: Have you talked about it with Andy (Murray)?
Obviously. Given the context, it was obvious. (She smiles.) I knew very well what he was going to say to journalists. We’d talked about it before. I asked him his opinion before his press conference and we discussed. I did not dictate him anything. He has very strong opinions about it. And above all, he has very interesting arguments. He has a very broad, very Anglo-Saxon vision of things. For him a woman ranked 100th in the world must have the same opportunities as a man ranked 100th. His view is: why should a man ranked 7Oth in the world earn more than Serena, just because he has a pair of balls and is born in the same era as Djokovic, Nadal and Federer, even though he doesn’t sell a single ticket? The debate isn’t about whether the men’s tour is more attractive. It’s about equal opportunities. And Andy has understood this perfectly.
Q: Problems within the French Tennis Federation, suspicions of match-fixing, Maria Sharapova failed drug test, the debate on equal prize money: is tennis suffering?
Yes. The image conveyed is terrible. It saddens me deeply. I find it pitiful. We are talking constantly about all these cases. We never talk about performance, values, commitment, sweat, transcendence. Yet this generation is exceptional. But it’s clear that tennis is taking a hit right now. Betting fixes, doping … There’s only one thing to do: keep fighting and cleaning up.
Q: Will we have again a golden era for women’s tennis (2000-2005)?
Hard to answer … Will Bouchard replace Sharapova? Impossible to know it. Two things characterized our time. First, the density of champions. We had, at the same time, Williams, Henin, Clijsters, Sharapova, Davenport, Capriati, me, etc. It was just huge. Then, very different personalities, stories and charisms. Today, do we have both? Among the twenty-two, twenty-three years old, we have Bouchard, Keys, Muguruza … and “Caro” (Garcia) and “Kiki” (Mladenovic) in France. Do they have charisma? It’s hard to say. They would have to show it very quickly, in any case. But the problem is that it is hard to exist when you rub shoulders with Williams and Sharapova. Often,
people reveal themselves when they get rid of strong personalities that surround them and maybe stifle them.
It will be easier for young players to win, but also to position themselves, to open up, unfold and be assertive.
Q: It is important?
Essential. It’s sport after all! Values in sport are keys. What happens with Sharapova’s positive test is terrible. A champion like her involved in a doping story, it’s horrible for the image of tennis.
You have to try to be impeccable. The road is not always linear but you can also get better with time. Serena did it for example. She better takes the full measure of her role and responsibilities now than ten years ago. Young players don’t realize that. At least not yet.
Q: Are we right to worry about the women’s tour, post-Williams and post-Sharapova?
In the same way we can worry for men’s tennis! What about after-Federer, Nadal and Djokovic? These guys are legends. And it’s hard to replace legends. In fact, today, I put both circuits in the same basket.
Men’s tennis is not safe from falling out or disinterest. For now, the Kyrgios, Zverev, Coric don’t exist. There is a world between them and the “Big Four”. But this can change.
Q: Are the ATP and the WTA as consistent one than the other?
The only thing I can say, is that ATP seems much more pro-active. But the era is favourable for them. When was the WTA stronger? In my time, because there was a bunch of champions. Today, the WTA is more of a follower.
Q: Is it not also too protective? When the Sharapova case happened, the WTA gave prepared replies to all players!
I saw that. I’ll tell you something: to varying degrees, it has always existed. They are afraid. But honestly, I think the players say what they want. I think they should not do it but in my opinion, it changes nothing. I don’t have the image of girls standing to attention.
Q: In addition, it would go against what they are looking for: the expression and the development of personality…
Exact. Instead, explaining the situation to a player before a press conference can only be a plus. There, the WTA has a role to play. But they can say to a player: “It would be good to say that,” I am pretty sure it has no impact.
Q: Would you be interested in taking part to participate to a working group about the future and promotion of women’s circuit?
I should be… but no! (She bursts laughing.) I prefer to be on the court. I hope to contribute but in another way. By being Fed Cup captain in particular. I like to see this team leads people behind it. But to sit around a table meeting after meeting, is not my thing. I’m more into action. Providing direction, inculcating values, imposing respect … that’s what drives me.