“In mixed events women lose prominence; female tennis has to go on a lonely path” – interview with Macarena Miranda
SANTIAGO, Chile – There are things that don’t happen very often in tennis. One of them is finding women’s professional tournaments in South America. This Monday, a series of four WTA 125 tournaments starts in the region: Chile, Brazil, Argentina and Uruguay. They are the equivalent of the ATP’s Challeger tournaments.
“We managed to reedit a 125 tournament, which contribute a lot to the ecosystem of women’s tennis. The WTA has realized that all tournaments, from a 125 to a 1000, contribute to tennis. It took them a long time to understand it, but now they are giving more impulse to smaller events. They realized that if you don’t work the base, if you don’t take care of the players who are between 80 and 250 in the ranking, it will be very difficult for new players to emerge in the future,” says Macarena Miranda, director of the WTA 125 in Chile to CLAY sitting in the stands of the recently restored Anita Lizana Central Court at the Parque Estadio Nacional in Santiago.
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The colorful and impeccable stadium that can host 3500 spectators is a possible venue to host the event. In 2023, like last year, the championship that starts this Monday will be held in Colina, a district north of Santiago de Chile, at the feet of the Andes Mountains. It is a beautiful scenery that enchants the tennis players who decided to come. The most important one? The Egyptian Mayar Sherif, defending champion.
“Sherif is a figure to follow. A relevant character for the Arab world,” says Macarena Miranda.
Interview with Macarena Miranda
– The players come here looking for points that will get them into the Australian Open, but they also come to play a very nice tournament.
– Those who tried it last year were very happy. Having a star like Sherif, who returned here in what was the best year of her career (she almost reached the top 30) is great. Nadia Podoroska is coming, she called me some time ago and told me she wanted to play. Sara Errani is also coming, she is a great player who will always give a good show on the court. Women’s tennis, beyond the names, invites to be surprised. It will be a nice show. Women’s tennis has been a very long road, this year was the 50th anniversary of the WTA. Every milestone is important and it is a luxury to see good tennis players here.
– What does women’s tennis have that men’s tennis doesn’t have?
– I really like the way the rallies are played. To see the courage that the women put into it. The strength and determination, the impetus. We women show much more, we are like warriors.
– What needs to happen in South America for there to have more tournaments with greater public interest?
– It’s like the chicken or the egg. I am going back to earlier stages: it is important that at the base of the tennis pyramid women can be enchanted. Before, we were in a very lonely lane with very little development in other women’s sports. Today field hockey, volleyball and basketball are very strong. Individual sports are harder and more expensive for early stage development.
– How do you see the growing interest of Arab powers in women’s tennis? What do you think about Saudi Arabia, a country where women’s rights are not worth the same as men’s, hosting WTA tournaments?
– I see it as something positive. It’s showing that it can be done. I think of the female population in those places and I see it as a turning point through sport. They come to contribute to that society where women can see that it is possible. This population perhaps sees these instances very far away, as if they were from another world and not part of the Arab world. I try to think positively.
– You have been related to tennis from various positions: you were a tennis player, you are a journalist by profession, a tournament director… How do you think the relationship between athletes and journalists has evolved?
– It is difficult. The two worlds have to be in partnership, but it is not easy, because many times there are certain things that the journalist must communicate, but that at the same time can harm the athlete. I tried to contribute with the diffusion of women’s sports since when few did it in my country. I started doing women’s tennis tournaments when nobody gave a penny. As a journalist, I will rarely bother a sportswoman with a question. It is hard for me to understand that attitude, but I understand it. My mission is to contribute in a positive way.
– Many athletes tend to think they are doing journalists a favor by talking to them.
-Oh, no. That’s a pain in the ass. Once in a while, when I was reporting tournaments, I experienced that of having to wait and then the athlete doesn’t talk. It’s something I find unpresentable and I don’t agree with it. That happens in situations where the player is in a bubble. This environment that surrounds these sporting events makes athletes enter a closed circle where their egos are boosted. I fight against that kind of system and in my capacity as WTA tournament director I seek to transcend being super simple and blue-collar. I’m going to deliver the prize, and if I have to carry the water, I’m going to do that too.
– Does women’s tennis compete with men’s tennis?
– Some of their audiences repeat, but there is a captive audience in each one, and it is different. Women’s tennis still has to travel on a lonely road. I think that in small tournaments when the event is mixed, women lose prominence. I like female tennis players to be protagonists, to exploit their image in the right way.
– The WTA Finals tournament did not develop as expected, there are marketing and communication problems, and more events are needed. What is the WTA doing wrong? Do you have any criticism?
– I prefer to look at the positive side and I think the WTA has realized that all tournaments, from a 125 to a 1000, contribute to tennis. It took them a while to understand it, but now they are giving more impetus to smaller events. They realized that if you don’t work on the base, if you don’t worry about the players who are between 80 and 250 in the ranking, it will be very difficult for new players to emerge in the future. The 125 do contribute a lot to the ecosystem of women’s tennis.
– How was that gala celebration of the 50th anniversary of the WTA that took place in New York?
– I have several anecdotes. The WTA gala was tremendous. I was clearly not sitting in the front row, but at a rather secondary table. Mary Pierce at the next table. I was very surprised by Gabriela’s (Sabatini) simplicity. I call her Gaby. We trained together, we didn’t have the opportunity to play because she left very early for the pros. At the gala she had a huge line of people who wanted her autograph and when we saw each other she greeted me very warmly by my name. She told me me: “Hey, Maca, Mercedes Paz told me about your tournament. What a great tournament you are having”. That she remembered me with such simplicity and that she praised our event was fantastic.
– You didn’t invite her?
-No, it’s just that I didn’t have the courage. Having a star like her that realizes the tremendous effort to make this tournament in Chile is very good. It is nice to know that she is one more of those who value the tour in South America.
– Who else did you share with?
– Afterwards I approached Billie Jean King and told her that I admire her very much, that the paths she opened were very important. She was touched by what I told her. She remembered the time she came to Chile. I emphasize her simplicity and that of all the great ones. It is something that is difficult for us here in Chile, because the Andes Mountains make us live in a parallel world. It does not allow us to see beyond. I was the “first Chilean to be 340th in the world”, the “first to win a Chirimoya Bowl”. Argentina does not have that, there are many champions, they have more history with so many players who have competed at the top. And they are all very simple!