Yesterday I wrote about the pathetic ritual of England footballers ‘taking the knee’ before matches.
Chaps, someone who feels compelled to signal virtue is guaranteed to have none. Virtue is a silent, undemonstrative quality that can only ever be manifested tacitly.
That’s why I despise rich people who insist that the recipients of their largess emblazon the donor’s name on their façades. “But when thou doest alms, let not thy left hand know what thy right hand doeth,” teaches a recognised, if nowadays ignored, authority on virtue.
Yet tennis beat footie to woke stances, which is par for the course. Being more of a middle-class game, tennis attracts more people susceptible to woke diktats.
A salient trait of the middle classes is fear of causing offence. Those above and below the middle classes tend not to give much of a damn, and they don’t care who knows it.
They are secure in their social standing, whereas the middle classes often aren’t. So they may feel they risk dropping a rung or two on the social ladder should they defy newfangled orthodoxies.
However, whereas football powers that be emphasise the racial end of the woke spectrum, their tennis counterparts are more concerned with feminism. Hence for the past few years men and women have been getting equal prize money at the Grand Slam tournaments.
That flies in the face of both arithmetic (the men spend on average twice as much time on the court) and the sacred egalitarian principle of equal pay for equal work. It also ignores the commercial principle of supply-demand: men’s matches attract much bigger audiences, both live and on TV.
Yet no one has accused wokers of the world of being rational: they live by their visceral instincts, the prime of which is resentment of our civilisation as it is, and especially as it has been. This is expressed by rote, through a series of ironclad mantras spouted whenever someone pushes a relevant button on their inner jukebox.
Come the season of major tournaments, some of those mantras become all-pervasive. One of them is invariably uttered whenever a commentator describes Serena Williams as the best female player of all time.
The show host will contort his facial features into a grimace of sanctimonious opprobrium and say: “Why female player? Isn’t she the best tennis player of all time, full stop?”
Like all woke mantras, this is so meaningless as to be borderline idiotic. Any full-time male player, including those on the veterans’ and US college circuits, would beat any female player, including Serena.
Anyone who has ever swung a racquet in anger knows this. Moreover, Serena herself knows it. When an interviewer asked her a few years ago if she was ready to take on Andy Murray, Serena just laughed. “I’m not going to play Andy,” she said. “He’ll beat me love and love in six minutes flat. The men play a different game.”
Yes, the game is different. It’s just the prize money that isn’t.
The usual, specious, argument is that the men’s total prize pot at the lesser tournaments is bigger. That may be, but comely female players have much greater opportunities to supplement their income with endorsements and model work.
Eugenie Bouchard, for example, made $6.1 million last year even though she has never won a major. And Anna Kournikova, who only won $3.5 million in career prize money, has a net worth of $60 million. It’s not just fun but also money that blondes have more of.
However, I feel I know how to reconcile the two sides, those who claim Serena is the best woman player ever and those who insist she is the best player tout court.
Putting on my Solomon hat, I can offer a solution that ought to satisfy both parties (or not, as the case may be). Serena is neither the best tennis player of all time nor even the best woman player.
She isn’t the former because any male player you’ve ever heard of could beat Serena without working up a sweat. The only criterion by which she could be deemed superior to, say, Federer or Nadal is that she has won more Grand Slams: 23 to their 20 each.
All God’s children love objective comparison criteria, but that’s not comparing like with like. Since we’ve already established that women play a different game, bean counting simply doesn’t apply here.
But I agree that the number of Slams is a useful measuring stick when we compare players leaving their mark within the same game, in this case women’s. Well, by that criterion the best woman player of all time is Margaret Court, not Serena Williams.
Court has 24 majors to her credit, compared to Serena’s 23. One might say that Serena at her best would have beaten Margaret at her best, which is God’s own truth. But that argument doesn’t work any better here than it does when we compare men’s and women’s tennis.
The women’s game is now different from what it was half a century ago, when Margaret Court was active. Thus we can take that hypothetical comparison out of the equation and simply go by the objective numbers, 24 versus 23.
But that’s where politics comes in. Mrs Court just doesn’t cut it as the best of all time.
She is a white woman and a Christian pastor. And she is outspoken in her rejection of woke orthodoxies, such as homomarriage and sex change. She doesn’t believe that Fanny can be your uncle and Bob your aunt – so her name never comes up as a candidate.
Serena, on the other hand, ticks all the appropriate boxes. And the one she doesn’t tick, the number of Slams, can be simply redacted from the ballot.
I wonder if Greta Thunberg plays tennis. If she does, Serena (and Margaret) better watch out: both of them could well be taken out of contention. After all, if politics is a factor in determining who is the best player of all time, why can’t it become the only factor?