As a general rule, the standard of women’s sport is on a sharper upwards trajectory than that of men’s sport. This certainly appears to be the case in sports such as basketball, cricket and boxing, where such a judgment is obviously subjective.

Tennis, however, does not seem to fit the model. Since at least the days of Billie Jean King and Bobbie Riggs there has been fascination for the battle-of-the-sexes notion. Remember Martina Navratilova and the titillation over a possible match against the male world number 100? Serena Williams made similar headlines.

No-one seems to be talking about this any more. The standard of men’s tennis has improved in recent years while the women’s game has wilted. The difference between the power and athleticism of the top male players compared to the top females seems greater now than for some time.

However it is also the ability of the male players to minimise mistakes while executing their skills with greater speed and power that provides a glaring difference. Take the first two Australian Open matches of each of the top six women’s seeds and the top six (remaining) men’s seeds. 41% of all points in these 12 women’s matches ended with unforced errors, with a further 5% decided by double faults.

In the men’s matches, 29% of points were determined by unforced errors and 3%by double faults, indicating superior concentration or mental toughness.

For the record: I have always preferred watching women’s tennis to men’s. Still do. But it seems that the men’s game is moving upwards (inspired perhaps by the sublime Federer) while women’s tennis is currently in a decline phase (the end of the Williams era?).

As always, each of these phases will doubtless eventually change.

Peter Fray

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