By Jane Voigt
Today is International Women’s Day. Who knew it started way back in the early 1900s when women’s pay was non-existent and voting forbidden? Women’s pay remains problematic in many sectors, but not in tennis. Tennis is very good to women and for women.
Maria Sharapova makes more money than any other woman athlete, according to Forbes 2013 assessment of the top-ten female athletes. The list also includes Serena Williams, Li Na, Victoria Azarenka, Caroline Wozniacki, Agnieszka Radwanska, and Ana Ivanovic, which means 70% of the top-paid women athletes play tennis. It’s a sampling worth noting on International Women’s Day.
But income wealth is only one, and perhaps minor, way to measure the bounty women tennis players have secured during their careers. Maria Sharapova may drive a new Porsche every year for the rest of her life and Serena Williams might dress in Nike clothes years after she retires. However, they staked their ground on the hard courts across America, the red clay of Europe, and the green grass of Northern Europe after being raised from nothing that pointed to their lives as they look today. Without their sport, their names would not be celebrated.
Take Ana Ivanovic’s opponent today in Indian Wells. Her name is Elina Svitolina. She is ranked No. 43 in the world at 19 years old. Her half-a-million dollar career prize money is feeble when compared to the millions earned by Ivanovic.
But these women share a common ground of war. Ivanovic is Serbian and Svitolina was born in Odessa, Ukraine. Perhaps Svitolina’s existence in what could seem like a fairytale world outside her country brings a little hope to those who suffer at home. She was not included in a video posted to You Tube by ATP player Alexandr Dolgopolov, also from Ukraine. However, the message of peace was well pronounced by his fellow players. Sergiy Stakhovsky wrote a plea for Ukraine, his home country, which was posted as a special to SI.com.
Unfortunately or fortunately, depending on where your loyalties lie, Svitolina did not prevail over Ivanovic who is seeded No. 11. The Ukrainian teenager served for the match 3 times, though.
The third set was a series of breaks. Neither player could direct her energy toward anything consistent until Ivanovic played in a steadfast manner during the tiebreak. She won the match, by hitting her 8th ace: 46 75 76(1). However, her tennis must improve if she wants to win a second title. She ended the match with 51 winners and 67 unforced errors.
Li Na made her debut as a number one seed today, facing her countrywoman Jie Zheng. Li made tennis look breezy at first. She demolished Zheng in less than a half hour in the first set. The second was strewn with errors, although Li pulled out the win, 61 75. Her winners to unforced errors stat was a dismal 17-34.
Per usual, Li entertained fans with her self-depricating humor on court after her victory. She said she’d taken a 10-day holiday with a friend, leaving her husband Denis at home. Her friend told Li she looked great while away. “It was the best ten days of my life,” Li announced … “without my husband.”
In China Li’s value has exploded, since winning her second major at The Australian Open in January. She has 20 million followers on China’s version of Twitter, and she has learned to take the attention better. “I only stayed home for three days this time,” she added, referring to the month she took at home after winning The French Open in 2011.
Around the Indian Wells Tennis Garden, other women presided. Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova (No. 21) defeated teenager Caroline Garcia, 64 75. Veteran Svetlana Kuznetsova (No. 27) defeated Qualifier Barbora Zahlavova Strycova 63 63. The number 28 seed, Klara Zakopalova was upset by up-and-comer Karolina Pliskova. Australian Open runner-up Dominika Cibulkova (No. 12) said good-bye to Wildcard Donna Vekic, 63 62. And finally, American Wildcard Coco Vandeweghe had nothing to fight with against the heavily favored Wimbledon champion Petra Kvitova. The Czech Republic three-seed sent the tall Californian home, 61 63.
The biggest name missing is, of course, Victoria Azarenka. The No. 3 seed lost in her first round to American Lauren Davis, 60 76(2). Azarenka had not played since The Australian Open due to a foot injury. Before arriving to the California desert, she wore a boot to protect her foot. With just a couple days of practice, the injury inflamed. She has nerve damage between the toes, which comes and goes without any warning. She has not confirmed her play at SONY Open, which begins in just over a week.