It tends to go one of two ways for female tennis stars. If you're cute and feminine, like Maria Sharapova, Serena Williams and Ana Ivanovic, you win, earn millions in endorsements and become among the most recognized athletes in sports. If you're not pinup material, you win and endure taunts that you play like a man.
Sam Stosur defeated Dominika Cibulkova 6-4, 6-1 in a Tuesday quarterfinal at the French Open. After the match, the Slovak suggested to reporters that her loss to the 2011 U.S. Open champion was expected, given that Stosur is a dude.
"I have to say that she played unbelievably today. Her topspin and her serve, I mean, she played like a man, and it's really hard to play against a man. It was driving me crazy on the court today."
For the record: Sam Stosur is not a man. Nor was Amelie Mauresmo, who had to deal with similar nuanced gender critiques throughout her career. Stosur is muscular and athletic, and though she probably doesn't get as many offers to pose for fashion magazines as someone like Cibulkova, she cleans up nicely.
Cibulkova isn't a native English speaker, so I was willing to give her the benefit of the doubt on the comments. But then Christopher Clarey of the New York Times explained how Cibulkova backed off her statement when pressed:
Comparing women's players to men has caused controversy in the past. But Cibulkova, when asked later to clarify her comment, said that she did not mean to imply that Stosur had any unfair advantage, only that the heaviness of her ball and her style of play reminded her of playing a man.
"As a player, she's very fit," Cibulkova said. "I'm not saying anything bad. I'm just saying she's playing like a man."
"I mean nobody has a serve like her," Cibulkova added. "She's kicking the serve so much so she gets me out of the court, and her topspin from the forehand, nobody is playing topspin like her. It's more men's style, so it's what I meant."
Cibulkova's backtrack was about as successful as her backhand. She still comes out of the press conference saying Stosur is like a man! Why didn't she just say, "I didn't mean to say she's a man, but she's fit, muscular, plays a little mannish, so yeah, she's basically Tom Selleck in a visor and sunglasses."
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