Quantification is a key concept, modern and still only partially developed: Galileo timed things with his pulse: most people still don’t get it, not even if they’re in a science department at Harvard.
Wimbledon is coming, the tennis world, the civilized world, is about to retest its enthusiasms: who’s number 1? (on grass) Who’s #2? Who’s 1 and 2 among the women …
Johnnie Mac, a good tennis player but an even better stand-up (or sit-down) commentator, had said that Serena Williams was one of the greatest athletes of all time. He’d also said that she was the best female tennis player ever seen publicly. Ah, but people, people who don’t know their ass from their elbow, were saying that he said she was one of the greatest, period; so he had to qualify: greatest female tennis player. He qualified further: if we were talking about tennis players worldwide, without regard to gender, he estimated she’d be able to play competitively among the males at a level around 700 world-wide: the top 699 male tennis players would beat her off the court; she might split sets with players #700, 701.
Serena didn’t thank him for the compliment. Until we actually test such claims in a series of tournaments, it’s neither a compliment nor an insult. It would become a compliment if we knew, from rational testing, how other great female tennis players would have faired against the top several hundred men. Ask yourself, you can’t “look it up”: how deep among the males would Chrissie have had to play before she won, ever? before she won consistently? How deep would Navrotalova have had to play? Lenglen? Hengis? When would Sharapova have started to win a set now and then playing against males? 800? 900? Would Martina Hingis have been able to beat ranked males while the number was still three-figures? Played the 700th ranked male Hingis loses 0-6, 0-6? How about Court? Lenglen?
How many women players would win a single game before we got to male #1,000? #3,015?
Myth must not be tested.
No, no. Notice. Civilization doesn’t know the answer. We’ve been protected from the answer. We’re in the realm where reason is forbidden, myth rules. Myth must not be tested, no quantification for religious beliefs.
Serena’s reply to Mac was was cute: please limit yourself to things knowable!
Wait: no imagining allowed? Notice, the web interviews celebrities; no scientists, no philosophers. No, no. Our prejudices are far too important to us to allow rational inquiry: no testing allowed.
Chrissy’s responses to such speculations decades ago were right on the moneh: playing about John, her husband, Lloyd, she wouldn’t have won a single point! the best woman player in the world, multiply tested, not one point!!
later Tuesday afternoon
Wow, Mac got a lot of people’s goat. Now he’s said he wished that men and women did compete together: then we’d “know”; “We wouldn’t have to guess!”
Whatever John’s point; that’s my point: Guessing is all we’re allowed because myth is involved.
It’s too late to test the past; but we could try to figure out how to test the future: next Wimbledon women’s champ: schedule her against the men, figure her place: then, Always test.
Or, don’t: but then admit that you don’t want to know.
Knowledge isn’t easy, but some knowledge ought to be possible: at least more possible than it’s been.
2017 06 26 -27
John McEnroe called Serena Williams one of the greatest athletes he’s ever seen. He ameded that to The greatest female tennis players, etc. Now Mac says that if she played on the men’s tour she’d be ranked maybe 700th. That’s very good: has any female player ever been likely to do better than that? It’s a surprise only to those who don’t know or understand a thing about it.
I’m reminded of an interview with Chrissie Everett from decades ago, she was married to tennis player John Lloyd at the time. Lloyd was a pro but was wasn’t top dozen or two. An interviewer asked Chrissie how she’s fare if whe played singles against her husband. “I wouldn’t win a single point,” Chrissie answered.
No. She was just the best female player in the world. The best.
And we fans loved her.
PS Would Chrissie have been around 700 among the men? I doubt it. That’s Serena’s accomplishment.
And of course she would have shellacked Bobby Riggs, the conning old drunk. But until it can be quantified, tested, it’s just bullshit. And “Bobby Riggs” isn’t a real test: he was the top male pro once upon a time, a long time ago. That was tested, quantified. But tests would have to be regular, and unregulated, that is not regulated by church or crown, to be rationally meaningful. I like to see Serena, at her best, say age twenty-five, tested against the top males, the top several hundred males, for lots of money, before we judge whether “700” is a compliment or an insult. I read it as a compliment, but what do I know? same as Mac knows: next to nothing.
There was a story today right on the money where Mrs. Mac said to John Why don’t you and I play mixed doubles together at Wimpledon. Johm replied, But you’re not a tennis player! She responded, “Exactly.”
You need a tradition of quantification, continuous testing.
I’m also reminded of the days when Nixon’s White House was acusing Times journalists of being “self-appointed.” And actual Times journalist mocked, “Hello, I’d like to appoint myself Nixon-critic at the New York Times“!
No, the jounalists are hired and promoted by the editors who are hired and promoted by the owners who are hired and promoted by the advertizers, the university journalism departments. … Right, Mrs. Mac, exactly, you don’t just walk into Wimbledon and appoint yourself to the qualies, then to the final sixteen …
If Mac is right, and Serena would really be able to play @ 70 +-, then where would Martina fit? and where Martina Hingis? and where Margaret Court? Evonne … If there are really difference between males adn females let us know rationally what they are, and not by court of no-data-allowed.
I would really like it if you’re average fan could instantly retort, Yeah, Serena can play at 700; could Martina have played anywhere near 700? or Hingis or Suzanne Lenglen?
PS I was able to track down pix of the divine Suzanne Lenglan because since age 15, wandering MOMA, I’ve been a huge fan of her cousin, Jacques Henri Lartigue.