Are 'hormones' holding women's tennis back?

Thursday, January 24, 2013
'Hormones and stuff' - Tsonga on what's wrong with women's tennis
French tennis player Jo-Wilfred Tsonga thinks women's emotional instability hold them back on the court.

After having his Australian Open final hopes crushed on the court, Frenchman Jo-Wilfred Tsonga is now being slammed for suggesting 'hormones' and 'emotional instability' are the reason female tennis players fail to dominate.

The top-ten player fronted media after last night's epic quarter-final which saw him lose out to legendary Roger Federer who now heads into a semi-final populated with the tournament's top four players.

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A 'big four' semi-final has been a constant in the Australian Grand Slam for the past four years on the men's side, but the women's semi-finals, this year featuring players from numbers one to 29, has not been so consistent.

When asked about why that might be, smiling Tsonga's surprising response suggested the top female players' haphazard performance could have something to do with their battle with hormonal fluctuations and the accompanying "bad things" that blokes miss out on.

"You know, the girls, they are most unstable emotionally than us," he said.

"It's just about hormones and all this stuff. We don't have all these bad things, so we are physically in a good shape every time, and you are not. That's it."

When his comments were greeted by some degree of shock from surrounding media, the player questioned "No, you don't think?".

No, Jo-Wilfred, we generally don't.

That seemed to be the general consensus from onlookers, as well as sports psychologists interviewed by The Weekly.

"I don't think many professional female athletes would appreciate that," says Georgia Ridler, trainer and psychologist to Olympic athletes.

"We're female and yes there is a sense that we're more instinctively emotional than men in some settings, but whether that's an indicator of performance leaves a lot to be questioned."

When it comes to training athletes in how to manage their emotions, Ridler deals with her male and female clients, exactly the same way.

Offering some explanation as to the range of female athletes filling the top spots in different tournaments, Ridler infers that the career-span of female athletes, often interrupted by motherhood, relationships, and the difficulties in managing their bodies that come with age could play a role.

Australian Psychological Society sports psychologist John Crampton thinks the changing faces of female tennis' top spots is testament to a greater abundance of high-standard female players, rather than inconsistency in their game.

"In male tennis at the moment we have a number of hot-handed players who are miles ahead of the rest, and we've seen that in the women's game in the past," he says.

"Now the pyramid is much flatter — the fact that a 29th ranked player in a grand slam semi-final doesn't happen by chance. It indicates to me that there's not that much difference between that player and the top player."

Unlike Tsonga, Dr Crampton was not willing to speculate whether or not a woman's hormonal cycle would affect her game, but pointed out that there is pressure on athletes to manage personal, psychological, and physical factors when they step onto the court.

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"If we're talking menstrual cycle then every elite athlete has to manage that like they would other physical factors," he says.

"When it comes to emotion, that has to be managed as well. I've worked with some particularly emotional male athletes, some female athletes that manage emotions better, and the other way around. I think it's far more personality based.

"In such an individual sport like tennis, you can't really generalise anyway."

Your say: What do you think of Tsonga's comments? Are female athletes' performances affected by their emotions and hormones?

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