We’ve just lost Joan Rivers. The Ebola outbreak is officially "out of control." ISIS continues its raging horror show. We’re officially in the midst in a steady stream of dark days. In the past we’ve looked to women in sports to buoy our spirits when the going has got rough. So maybe—as we’re plumb in the middle of the U.S. Open—tennis can provide us the bright spot that we need right now?
While comparing male and female athletes is often an experiment in making women look pathetic (our bodies are just built differently y’all—we’re still impressive as hell!), this is decidedly, and happily, not the case when it comes to tennis. Just a month ago at the Bank of the West Classic, Germany player Sabine Lisicki hit a serve at a whopping 131 miles per hour—setting a new record for women’s tennis.
But that’s not just fast for a woman—it’s fast period. In fact it’s faster than any serve Roger Federer has hit so far in 2014. Put another way: Federer wishes he hit like a girl.
There’s also an interesting little study soon to be published in the Journal of Sports Economics with some intriguing gender-related findings: Mainly, that male tennis players embarrass themselves more often than female ones.
Yes, we’re listening, go on . . .
The study looked at line-call challenge data for 331 professional men’s matches and 149 women’s matches between 2006 and 2008. The major finding? As competition got more heated, men were more likely to make erroneous charges against umps' calls than women. (Which has real repercussions—if the umpire is shown to be correct on a challenged call, a player loses an opportunity to correct a future call.) In the U.S. Open, players are given only three challenges (plus an extra during the tie-break) per set . . . so these are not things you'd want to blow.
Yet, men are more likely to mess them up than women.
And not only were men’s challenges more often wrong, a full 34% of them were found to be “embarrassing” (defined by the researchers to be more than 50 mm—approximately two inches—off the out-of-bounds line). Women, on the other hand, only made "embarrassing" calls 9% of the time.
So Does This Mean That Girls Rule And Boys Drool?
Actually, interpreting these data is sadly, a mixed bag of shame, overconfidence, and pride. Men, more prone to, um, cockiness, are more likely to believe that their perspective is correct even when the visual data of the ball being clearly outside the line suggest otherwise. Further propping up this arrogance is a shit ton of pride—men can’t bear to lose and thus are more likely to make irrational attempts to reverse the ump’s judgments.
Martina Navratilova, winner of 18 Grand Slam singles titles sums it up well in her comments on this phenomenon to TIME:
“It’s an ego thing.”
Women on the other hand, are guided more by shame. Imagine yourself to be playing in the U.S. Open. Think of the millions of eyes glued to you as you bandy that hot-yellow ball about. Now imagine making an embarrassing call in front of said millions. If you’re a woman, you’re more likely to be afraid of humiliating yourself in a public forum and looking like an idiot—a force that doesn’t affect our male brethren in the same way.
“Guys just don’t care as much about losing challenges. Women are more concerned about being embarrassed.”
The authors of the study sum it up well: “at crucial moments of the match, such as tie-breaks . . . male players try to win at all costs, while female players accept losing more gracefully.”
That's a nice new spin on a gendered tale as old as time.