Tennis has been the standard in the sports industry for gender equality.
After all, it was 1973 when Billie Jean King defeated Bobby Rigs in the iconic “Battle of the Sexes.” That match seemed to put women’s tennis on the map. Certainly, that would set the tone for the progressive movement in gender equality.
However, when ESPN cuts to players’ boxes at the French Open this week, viewers might notice a disproportionate amount of testosterone in the seats of coaches.
Oddly, very few tennis players have women coaches. While that might be expected in men’s tennis, it seems ironic that most women playing in the WTA (Women’s Tennis Association) do not hire women or former WTA players to coach them.
Only five of the top 100 women in the WTA list their primary coach as a female — that’s 5%.
Petra Martic, ranked 21st in Women’s Singles, is one of only a few that aimed to hire a woman coach — Sandra Zaniewska. Zaniewska, age 27, a former player from Poland, was hired early last year.
“When I started working with her, everybody was doubting my decision,” Martic told The New York Times.
“People underestimated it, people even laughed at it, said I did a crazy thing — what am I doing? I’m not serious about my career because she’s so young and inexperienced. But I always knew. I heard this girl talking about tennis and I knew she knows what she’s doing.”
Similar to the NFL, a handful of coaches are recycled over and over. In tennis, whether women’s or men’s, those coaches are predominantly men.
When asked why not hire a woman, there are common answers of women not wanting to go on tour without their families, while others feel that they might be too emotional. However, Martic feels that her coach is directly in tune with her own emotions, as a former player.
“She knows how it feels to go on court at a Grand Slam when nerves are kicking in and it’s not easy to control them,” Martic said. “To have someone on your side who understands it and is not judging you or underestimating the way you feel, I think it plays a big role.”
French professional tennis player Lucas Pouille appreciates his coach, who is a woman. Pouille told ESPN in January, after his win over Milos Raonic in the quarterfinals of the Australian Open, Amelie Mauresmo is “bringing a lot of confidence to my game, to my personality, to my state of mind.”
Should more men hire more women’s coaches?
“They should. They should,” Pouille said. “She has the right state of mind, she knows everything about tennis. It’s not about being a woman or a man. It doesn’t matter. You just have to know what you’re doing, and she does.”