This is a guest post by my long-time blogging friend David Fearnhead, sportswriter and author who often promotes Women’s Tennis Blog on BBC radio 🙂 He’ll discuss the reign of Serena Williams in contemporary women’s tennis and question why her earnings in endorsements are not matching up to her on-court success.
Wimbledon has only just started, but if read all the punditry and look up the latest odds, you’ll find that one name comes above all others. Even before a ball was struck at SW19, the Rosewater Dish was being polished for Serena Williams. The fact that one player should be so dominant has been seen as detrimental to the women’s game.
“All Serena has to do is turn up and she’s won.”
But that is the thing with Serena, she rarely, if ever, just turns up.
Every generation has their greats, but Serena is not just a great of her generation. In my opinion, Serena could go toe to toe with Graf and Navratilova, and win. Maybe it would be close, maybe she wouldn’t win all the time, but she’d certainly win. The fact that she is so dominant today is not a sign that tennis lacks strength in depth, but more of a sign that Serena is a special player. Maria Sharapova may outearn her off the court, but on it she’s not in the same league. Their current head-to-head is 16-2 in Williams’ favour. It’s not even close. In fact you have to go back a whole decade to find the last time Sharapova beat Williams.
Last year when Forbes published their list of highest paid female athletes, tennis dominated. Seven of the top10 were tennis players. What was interesting was the breakdown of those earnings. Sharapova earned $6 million in prize money, compared to the $8.5 million of Williams. Yet, in terms of endorsement, Sharapova outearned the best player in the world (Williams) by almost 2/1. That might not be surprising, Sharapova has always been very sponsor orientated. What was surprising is that Li Na ($15m), Caroline Wozniacki ($11m), and Victoria Azarenka ($9m) also outearned Williams in endorsements.
So what’s going on? Is tennis racist? Or is Williams just more focused on her tennis and less willing to put herself out for the demands of her sponsors. That’s a question perhaps only Williams can answer. As is the question of her form this year. After a poor Australian Open due to injury, she looked decidedly off her game when she lost in the second round to Garbiñe Muguruza at the French. That is perhaps the biggest problem for Williams. We know she can beat Sharapova, but can she beat the new talent which is emerging? They play with a special confidence that comes from inexperience. What’s more there is plenty of them. Bouchard, Giorgi, Halep… Far from despairing at the state of the women’s game the future is looking excitingly healthy.
And what about Wozniacki? The former world number one has slumped down to be a lowly 16th seed. She’s been making more headlines for her on/off/on/ then off again relationship with Rory McIIroy. Now single, she looks in the best physical shape I’ve seen her in. Perhaps now it’s time for her tennis to be making the headlines. Without the burden of the number one ranking, she is a dangerous floater in the draw.
Other dangers lurk with unseeded Kaia Kanepi, a quarterfinalist last year. In fact, the Estonian has reached the quarterfinals of a Grand Slam on five occasions, twice at Wimbledon. Barbora Záhlavová-Strýcová hands always prove a weapon on grass, could she cause an upset?
The one thing you can be sure of is that women’s tennis at Wimbledon is rarely a dull affair. (photo: © Neal Trousdale)
Congratulations David for a well written article!! I have a theory about the off court winnings of various players. I call it the “nice” factor. The fans perceive how nice players are by the way they are portrayed in the media, their actions on the court during matches, their interviews and even their bag checks. Some of us fans have also had the opportunity to interact and speak to various players. The off court earnings listings by Forbes are in the exact order of my “nice” ratings. After Serena comes Radwanska and Ivanovic in the list. All seven players are perceived to be “nice” by their fans. Their country of birth, the country where they grew up, their ability to speak English and their looks are some of the other factors involved. Of course they must have been a top 10 player during their career. Bouchard and Cibulkova are two future members of this list if they can sustain their current level of play. If Pennetta, Petkovic or Lisicki can improve their games, they could also be candidates. On down the rankings there are Tomaljanovic, Venus, Larcher De Brito, Cirstea, Savchuk, Sesil K, Jurak and Rosolska who may never be on this list but make my list of super nice players.
Thank you for the contribution, David!
JohnnyB, you’re right. Many things come into play when it comes to attracting paychecks from sponsors. It’s an overall appeal of a player and her marketability. You made a nice summary of what are the desired characteristics. Although, it is not a tangible thing, it depends on a lot of factors, just as we can’t clearly define why some singer is so popular and the other one is not, regardless of their vocal abilities.
well i wanted to write the same thing but JohnnyB wrote it better 🙂 I think sharapova has the ‘it’ factor can’t exactly say what ‘it’ is ( can i say charisma?? ) but all i can say is maria is clever(business woman ) and knows how to market herself. Li na being on the list doesn’t surprise me ( duh… she’s chinese if sania mirza won a grandslam or two in singles even she’d be on that list ) but vika being ahead of serena surprises me!! maybe serena needs a new agent.
Serena also has that charisma, no doubt about that. IMO she’s more charismatic that some of the names that surpass her in the endorsement deals. Still, I’m not worrying about her bank account, she’s doing quite ok 🙂
of course she does but i think there is some negativity injected in people’s mind about her because of her outbursts and angry moments which usually does not happen in mara’s or ana’s matches they are mostly joyful on and off the court, Also i think it’s serena who is not endorsing many products rather than her not being offered with those deals
Sru, you’re right, Serena’s image has been damanged by her outbursts, but still I think she can sell products well.