The BBC did women’s tennis no good at all on Saturday night after match commentators Barry Davies and Sam Smith patronised 42-year-old Kimiko Date-Krumm repeatedly during her third-round clash with Serena Williams.
Date-Krumm was never realistically going to win the clash and fell to a predictable 6-2 6-0 defeat but that didn’t stop the BBC mooning over her with sickening adoration as though surprised she’d made it this far without breaking a hip.
Their main focus was less on her tennis but instead how a professional sportswoman could compete with the might of Serena. There are apparently two types of tennis in the women’s game: one you play against the rest of the field and the other you play against the American – the latter impossible to uphold over three sets. Yet tell that to Victoria Azarenka and Sloane Stephens who have both scalped Serena this year.
Even before the players had entered Centre Court the denigrating parade was marching in full voice and splendour, with a little montage from the BBC about how this ‘veteran’ had seen it all in the women’s game but just refused to give up on her dream.
Steffi Graf was mentioned five or six times because Date-Krumm had once – presumably when television was in black and white – faced the 22-Slam champ in a Wimbledon semi and almost beaten her.
There was never going to be any sort of competition against Serena but for the BBC to so openly admit that by instead focussing on her age, the erroneous fact she once ran a marathon and speculating whether she has a teapot in her kit bag is just appalling – is there anything this woman cannot do?
A delightful tale about how she met her husband and fell romantically in love – getting married at St Mary’s Church in Tokyo, if you’re interested – filled a space between the change of ends. How sweet and charming and absolutely irrelevant to the scenes on court.
After a particularly inspiring rally where the Japanese player earned a point off the world number one, Smith confirmed “it’s not normal to play like this at 42.” Well, clearly it is normal if you’re a professional athlete who has already come through two rounds of a Grand Slam to play tennis to a half respectable level.
Let’s talk about bagels
Yet the worst was saved until last as the BBC commentators picked up on the term ‘bagel’. A bagel is when a player loses without winning a single game, something Date-Krumm avoided. So why did the commentators go on about it? If Petr Cech concedes a goal you don’t mention the possibility of a clean sheet, nor do you express hope of a hat trick when James Anderson takes a wicket.
If the bagel reference wasn’t bad enough then the discussion over whether or not this match would last even an hour was. I assume a 42-year-old cannot play past 60 minutes the way the commentators pointed to the clock and the BBC did itself more damage by focussing in on the scoreboard when the match ticked past an hour – how impressive such a poor woman managed to survive this long!
The TV director will have given that order to show the clock, meaning it wasn’t just the commentators who steered the patronising parade.
You forgot about the first round!
Through all the mock humour over Date-Krumm’s age and fitness, her inability to match the world number one and how great it is just to see her smiling on court, the BBC forgot to mention she’d actually won her first-round match 6-0 6-2 against qualifier Carina Witthoft in 44 minutes.
Clearly Date-Krumm isn’t such a no-hoper after all but let’s forget about that… oh, look at her smile! She’s so happy just to be at Wimbledon for a 12th time in her career… aww.
Lack of analysis
The most frustrating thing of all is that neither commentator particularly discussed Date-Krumm’s tennis and instead just goggled at her when a point was won and consoled her when Serena got the upper hand. Compare this to Laura Robson’s performance earlier in the day where the BBC’s commentators discussed how she must up her game to beat Marina Erakovic, get her feet working at the back of the court and come forward more on serves.
Where was the advice during this match? It was nowhere, for there’s surely nothing a 42-year-old could do to beat Serena.
Social network response
Twitter had its fair share of disappointed viewers too. Granted, many tweets expressed admiration that Date-Krumm is still playing at this age and, indeed, it is impressive. But appraisal should only go that far and not descend into denigrating the player purely because she’s older than her competitors. Smith took the brunt of the criticism on the social networking site but Davies didn’t escape blame either.
So what does this say about tennis, and women’s tennis in particular? We know Serena – a player we’ll never see the likes of again – skewers the WTA because of her sheer brilliance on court but that doesn’t mean the rest of the field is second-rate.
It’s bad for the game if a national broadcaster so timidly accepts a televised match is a foregone conclusion and even worse if they then focus on the loser’s other qualities, like being able to stand up and showing she can still enjoy herself after all those years.
At the end there was a standing ovation but for what? Date-Krumm was rubbish and lucky enough to earn those two games during the first set. If you’re good enough to compete then it doesn’t matter how old you are and Date-Krumm lost not because of creaky joints or a lack of green tea (thanks Barry) but because she wasn’t as good as her opponent.
Date-Krumm made the quarters at Wimbledon in 1995 and the semis a year later, retiring from the sport for over a decade. Upon her return at 37 she was a different player yet won the Seoul title in 2009 and was 2010 runner-up in Osaka.
She also made the third round of the Australian Open this year and, to my knowledge, does not own the Zimmer frame Sam Smith could be mistaken for suggesting she does.
Photo: y.caradec, flickr