Tennis: Backing for women

WOMEN'S TENNIS is pure theatre and deserves equal billing with the men's game, the new leader of the female side of the sport said yesterday.

Bart McGuire, a soft-spoken lawyer who now heads the Women's Tennis Association, pointed out that the women's game was rich in personalities who adorn pop and fashion magazines, regularly outgun the men in television ratings and have made tennis a fashionable sport.

"The women on the tour are great players and great theatre," he said.

Tennis is showbusiness, he said, insisting that the sport was not being trivialised. "This is a sport, it is not microbiology. It is supposed to be fun," he said.

McGuire was referring to players like Anna Kournikova, who is is as famous for her looks as she is for her play, Venus and Serena Williams, the sisters dubbed "Ghetto Cinderellas" by their father, Monica Seles, who has fought back from the trauma of being stabbed, and Steffi Graf, who is battling back after being plagued by injuries and family problems.

Last year, 3.5 million people went to watch women play tennis, the highest figure ever. In television ratings, surveys aparently show that women beat the men by about 20 per cent every time.

"Indeed I have said - somewhat tongue in cheek - I could make a strong case that women could get higher prize money than the men," McGuire said.

He argues that more women worldwide are attracted to tennis and that racket technology has revolutionised the game.

Tennis, he believes, has learned the painful lessons of burn-out. The girls are brought on to the tour later and last longer. "They are phased in gradually - there is less risk of injury," he said.