When the Next Gen ATP Finals was introduced, it seemed like an interesting concept. A season-ending event, like the ATP World Tour Finals, but for the “next-generation” players under the age of 21. These Gen Next players – Denis Shapovalov, Karen Khachanov, Andrey Rublev, Hyeon Chung, Daniil Medvedev, Jared Donaldson, Borna Coric and home wildcard Gianluigi Quinzi – have all had fantastic seasons and broken rank on the men’s circuit.
Fittingly, the inaugural edition of this event in Milan is projected as an innovative one with several rule-changing experiments as well. No line judges with all calls being made by Hawk-Eye, best of five sets, but first to four games in each set and tie break at three-games are some of the innovations.
But when the draw ceremony for said event began in Milan, there was nothing innovative about it. The more appropriate word would have been ‘regressive’.
The players were sorted into Group A and B by... picking their favoured female model. The model would then “reveal” their group by uncovering a place where the letter was written on her person. and voila, a draw ceremony that could be held with simple glass bowls and paper chits transformed into a painfully uncomfortable and sexist experience.
Here’s how journalist Reem Abulleil, who was there, described it on Sports 360.
“Once he made his decision, she would take him down the catwalk, and provocatively reveal the hidden letter that would indicate which group he’d play in. The following seed would then be escorted by the other non-chosen model. There was inappropriate dancing, gloves that were removed by a player’s teeth, and many more cringe-worthy moments but I’ll spare you the details.”
Sounds terrible? Looks even worse.
The video is plain awkward and watching the players reaction is basically second-hand embarrassment. Have a look:
But there is much bigger and troublesome issue here: the unnecessary and blatant sexualisation of women at something as basic as a draw ceremony. The objectification of women is a universal problem and athletes and other women involved in sport have to invariably face it. But to objectify a woman so overtly at a sports competition and involve the players in it for cheap thrills is insensitive to everyone involved.
The Next Gen Finals is not a small tournament is some part of the world aspiring to be edgy and cool with its party tricks. This is an official Association of Tennis Professionals event, being promoted for a good part of the season. The talent of display, with the young players having had breakthrough seasons, is enough to draw the audience attention right? Wouldn’t one watch a Denis Shapovalov answer questions about his season or even joke about throwing balls at umpires rather than see a gyrating female model tell him that his group is hidden under her garter?
This is a high-level tennis tournament, not a bachelor party. These players are supposed to be the next generation of tennis, not runway stars. This is supposed to be one of the most gender-balanced sports, not a tone-deaf, chauvinistic one.
Remember Raymond Moore and Novak Djokovic at last year’s Indian Wells? Or the flak Andy Murray has often received for his female coach? If such objectification is normalised by the ATP for the generation coming into the top-flight tennis, what can we expect from other stakeholders?
It’s been a year since so many athletes stood together to express outrage over Donald Trump’s sexually explicit conversation being passed off “locker room talk” last year. And while it’s heartening to see so many people take a stand on social media against the offensive draw ceremony in Milan, the concept of men’s sport being a “boys club” needs to be changed as soon as possible.