Battle of the Sexes, 21st Century Style

The thing that John McEnroe glossed over when he suggested in The New Yorker that “any good male college player could beat the Williams sisters, and so could any man on the senior tour” is that there’s a world of difference between those two matchups. A top male college player is a formidable animal. His 120 mph serves are designed to frighten linespeople, ball boys, and fans in the corporate seats, and that same power advantage extends to his ground strokes. An even bigger difference is in foot speed; Serena‘s fast but a 20-year-old guy is a step faster. In short, the physical differences between a top woman and a journeyman guy are so big that any mental edge that the Williamses might have simply wouldn’t come into play. That’s why Serena and Venus lost 6-1 and 6-2 respectively to Karsten Braasch (then ranked 203rd in the world) in unofficial matches at the 1998 Australian Open. It may be hard to hear, but they’d likely lose by a similar score to any male with even the faintest of pro tour aspirations.

McEnroe on the other hand is the best senior man in the world, and he’s far less scary, at least with a racket in his hand. The McEnroe who was practicing at Flushing Meadows with Brad Gilbert last Wednesday, trading lazy, topspin-free groundies, was playing a different and far slower game than any of the top women. When Mac ruled, tennis was gentler, if not kinder, and even at his peak he wasn’t a power player. Even his first serves rarely cracked 100 mph, which would make either Venus or Serena the favorite in a fast-serve contest. And any edge that Johnny Mac may have once had in foot speed has gone the way of his hairline. The only edge Mac might have? Volleys, which would be a moot point in singles, but could come into play if John and his brother Patrick paired up against the Williams sisters (now that’s an idea). Would we pay to see John try to make the best woman in the world feel his game? Sure. Would we put our money on Richard Williams‘s kids? Damn right.

Black September

The most controversial sports documentary since Leni Riefenstahl‘s Olympia, One Day in September somehow beat out fan favorite Buena Vista Social Club to win the Academy Award for Best Feature Documentary last March. Yet hardly anyone has seen it; with the exception of a weeklong screening in Encino, California—to satisfy Academy regulations—One Day was never released domestically. That’ll change on Monday, September 11, when HBO airs the film, just in time for the Sydney Games. Directed by Kevin Macdonald and coproduced by Arthur Cohn (The Garden of the Finzi-Continis), One Day examines the tragic events of the 1972 Munich Olympics, when Palestinian terrorists invaded the athletes’ village, shot and killed two members of the Israeli Olympic team, and took nine others hostage. The hostages were killed when German police and the terrorists engaged in a shoot-out at a Munich airport.

One Day pulls no punches. The filmmakers note that security at the Games was inexplicably lax—the terrorists simply climbed a fence to reach their target—and that the German police bungled the rescue mission. They also charge that the Germans released the three surviving terrorists in another dubious maneuver, after an “arranged” hijacking by other Palestinians. In a major coup, the filmmakers were able to locate and interview Jamil Al Gashey, the lone surviving terrorist, who lives in hiding in Africa.

The issues surrounding the film don’t end there. After winning the Oscar, Macdonald went back and altered the finished film because families of the slain athletes complained about the bloody, gruesome footage. Bowing to their demands, Macdonald blurred objectionable sequences. (Cohn estimates that he spent about $100,000 to change the negatives.) Finally, in the companion book to the film, author Simon Reeve pulls off another master stroke: revealing current Israeli prime minister Ehud Barak as coordinator of the post-Olympic “revenge mission,” in which senior Palestinian officials were assassinated.

Olympic Update

Medals awarded to winners at the Sydney Games will look a little off this year. In a classic—or classical—error, award designers mistakenly put a picture of the Colosseum in Rome on the medals, as opposed to the traditional Parthenon in Athens, the birthplace of the Games. Olympic organizers, embarrassed by the mix-up, are accused of perpetrating the “ultimate ignorance” by Australia’s Greek population. . . . Prostitutes from all over the world are heading for Sydney to cash in on the Olympic market. Sydney has a legalized sex trade, and the estimated 10,000 sex workers in the area will not be able to handle the increased demand according to experts. “The brothels and escort services will have a potential 150,000 extra clients a day,” Maria McMahon, of Australia’s Sex Workers Outreach Project, told reporters. Apparently it’s traditional for the sex industry market to expand during the Olympics. One sex worker described the demand in Atlanta ’96 as “second to none.” . . . Not all Olympic facilities are up to snuff just yet, with less than a week before the Games begin. Officials at Canberra’s Bruce Stadium—slated to host 11 Olympic soccer matches—used green spray paint to try to hide large patches of dead, brown grass on the venue’s pitch. The graffiti-ing was done in a moment of panic before an official inspection last week—it didn’t work. The turf, which was only laid on August 8, will be pulled up and replaced at a cost in excess of $400,000.

Contributors: Allen St. John, David Davis, Ramona Debs
Sports Editor: Miles D. Seligman

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