(since Jeff Tarango’s erratic behavior could not be blamed on his gender, we’ll just have to assume he was a total jerk)
Asked by reporters at the Australian Open why top seeds in women’s tennis tend to be knocked out early more often on the men’s tour, Jo-Wilfried Tsonga claimed, “the girls are more unstable” (“it’s just about hormones and all this stuff…e don’t have all these bad things, so we are physically in a good shape every time, and you are not. That’s it.”) The Wall Street Journal’s Carl Bialik is far too professional to resort to the sort of name-calling that headlined this item, instead pointing out, “there are plenty of more plausible explanations for this gender discrepancy than Tsonga’s biological theory.”
One, for instance, is that Williams and Kim Clijsters filled some of these semifinal slots after long absences from the game, which deflated their seeds below their high-caliber abilities. (The same may happen with the men at this spring’s French Open, when seven-time champion Rafael Nadal — if he returns from injury as planned on clay next month — likely will be outside the top four but will be favored to reach the semifinals.)
The most plausible explanation, though, is that upsets are more likely when the underdog needs to win just two of three sets — the requisite in the women’s draw at majors — rather than three out of five sets, as is required by male upstarts. Shorter formats mean as consistent as Djokovic, Federer, Nadal and Murray have been as the top four — and as consistently as Ferrer has lived up to his seeding in the last two majors as the No. 4 seed — they’d likely have much spottier records if they risked exit by losing two of the first three sets of their matches. It’s impossible to know how they would have performed in best-of-three-set matches: Their strategy and approach to the first three sets might have been wholly different. But the closest we can come to this hypothetical is to see how they did play in the first three sets of Grand Slam matches. And many times before the semifinal round, they played poorly enough or their opponents played well enough to knock a top seed out early.