Chris Rattue is a sports columnist for the New Zealand Herald.

Chris Rattue: Djokovic doesn't always hit winners

Novak Djokovic argued men's tennis players should be better remunerated than women. Photo / Getty
Novak Djokovic argued men's tennis players should be better remunerated than women. Photo / Getty

Novak Djokovic exudes the persona of a narrow character, a man zooming through a tunnel of extreme dedication, ruthless planning and success. And now he sounds as blinkered as he looks.

The finely groomed Serbian tennis maestro has roared past the extraordinary Roger Federer and the running machine Rafael Nadal in a wonderful era for the men's game. But Djokovic is no Muhammad Ali when it comes to landing a few clever blows for social issues, in this case gender equality.

Maybe all we deserve in these days of user-pays fanaticism and CEOs who qualify as small economies is a world No 1 in one of the world's most popular sports who looks at women's tennis and sees nothing to love.

Blokes get more viewers, blokes should get more money, said Djokovic. Prizemoney should be "fairly distributed" to the men's game which "attracts more attention, spectators and who sell more tickets" he told the planet with a right-wing bookkeeper's zeal.

There are arguments and numbers for and against Djokovic's claim. But there are also wider arguments around making sacrifices - if that's what is involved here - for the greater good. And a man as rich as Djokovic is in a great position to make them.

The whole idea that "fair distribution" of resources should reflect who is allegedly better than someone else is the narrow, self-interested view that has created such a huge gap between a few haves and a load of have-nots in many societies. We want more and to get it, you deserve less.

As it turns out, Djokovic earns about twice as much prizemoney each year as tennis queen Serena Williams. But old Dosh-ovic appeared disinterested in wider angles that could slow the progress of a career prize pool that stands, rather tall, at $143 million.

Actually, tennis is one of the few sports in which the women's game has been, at times, a raging success capable of overshadowing the men. It might actually be the only one, and it is hard to completely disentangle how the the men's and women's games influence and bolster each other no matter how easily Djokovic feels he can figure it out.

Women's tennis is at a bit of a low ebb right now, because there aren't any great rivalries unless you count Williams beating up the drugged-up Maria Sharapova. But women's tennis has a magnificent history and remains extremely high profile.

There are further intangibles to consider. Nadal may have indeed pulled in more punters than Sharapova, maybe. But I'd rather watch Williams squashing Sharapova (apart from the Russian's idiotic shrieking) than Nadal running another one of his boring marathons on clay.

Yes, women's sport needs to be more innovative rather than slavishly following what the men do. Women's cricket is a prime example of a sport needing major adjustment, because the lack of power means it is hard to provide attractive skills (I'd start by making the pitch shorter, in the way that softball makes the pitching distance for women about a metre less). But tennis is an exception.

Back to the court of opinion. Raymond Moore - director of the both-sexes tennis tournament in Indian Wells - had to stand down (or else be fired) because his comment suggesting women go down on their knees in thanks to the superstar men was outrageously sexist, disrespectful and historically inaccurate. Unless there is some unknown context here - maybe he was doing stand-up comedy - Moore came across as an aggressive misogynist. He went way beyond the Djokovic position.

But there are still so many things Djokovic could have said, to inspire the people, find holistic values, acknowledge that women have been disadvantaged in society, that there is more to life than ploughing ahead in the name of your already well-stuffed bank account. Djokovic doesn't always hit winners.

Crunch time
Monday is D-day for the Warriors. If they get beaten at home by Newcastle, it will be curtains for their top-eight hopes. Four opening losses including to lightweights like the Newcastle Knights and Wests Tigers would be too much for the scatty Warriors to overcome.

Stadium quandary
Where does rugby stand on the great Auckland stadium debate? Has anybody heard a squeak out of Auckland rugby or the Kremlin down in Wellington? Hard to believe the national obsession is sitting on its hands doing nothing, even if the leaders are saying nothing.

Rugby is in a tricky position. The union overlords love Eden Park even if some of the underlings don't, and league could be the biggest winner if the stadium goes ahead. Yet if a brilliant new stadium does get built via private money with league leading the way, rugby will no doubt want to play there.

But will rugby throw some money into the pot, when a new stadium will help save their major winter rival which keeps sinking below the waves thanks to the Warriors' ineptitude on the field? And does rugby fear for Eden Park's survival? Which way to jump? Tricky, huh.

Williamson at home
What an apparently brilliant start to the Kane Williamson-Mike Hesson era in charge of the New Zealand cricket side, with Brendon McCullum having retired. Williamson - no stranger to the national captaincy - has looked very comfortable as a T20 captain in India now the national job is his own. I am told Williamson and McCullum were very close, and as everybody knows, Hesson and McCullum are peas in a pod. So there were good signs for the handover.

Then again, as Williamson always emphasises, T20 is a fickle game. Tactics and form are important, but so is a bit of luck. Don't read too much into the new leadership yet, in the same way it is dangerous to read too much into pre-season football matches.

- NZ Herald

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