Proving Perrotta somewhat wrong, Williams would go on to win the tournament, dominating Sharapova 6-1, 6-2 in the final. But proving him somewhat right, Williams is one of the few players in recent years whose listed weight has increased. In late 2007 the figure on Williams' profile was bumped up to 150 pounds. In late 2011 it would be adjusted again slightly, to 155 pounds, where it has stayed since.
Did any of her fellow players notice the change? I asked several of the top women if they ever looked up an opponent's weight before a match.
"I usually check height," Williams told me. "I never check weight, just height."
Recent Wimbledon champion Marion Bartoli says she never looked at the weight numbers either, and added that she doubted their veracity anyway. "Women are always cheating on their weight," she said with a loud laugh. "That's our mistakes, actually. But it doesn't really matter."
German player Andrea Petkovic tells me she now weighs 70 kilograms (that’s 154 pounds) but is listed at 69 kg (which, like McDonald, she says is her weight “on a good day”). Petkovic says the most absurd weight listings on the tour send the wrong message. "It's like the things with celebrities who have their babies, and they do like a million photo shoots and look amazing after a month," Petkovic says. "And they have four kids, and nobody knows they have five nannies also, you know? It puts a lot of pressure on the common people, I think."
The pressure is not only on everyday people, but on up-and-coming players. Taylor Townsend, the 2012 Australian Open junior champion, had her weight turned into a flashpoint after the USTA initially benched her from playing in tournaments so she could get in shape. The 17-year-old Townsend, who has played infrequently at the professional level, has not yet filled out a player information card, so the "weight" line of her WTA profile remains blank to date, but will need to be filled in as soon as the WTA decides she has become a prominent player.
"For me personally, I didn't have any [weight] issues, so it wasn't a big deal one way or the other," says Chanda Rubin, a player-turned-broadcaster. "I can see, though, that a player that really had issues with that, that might be a little traumatic or uncomfortable, and be an issue for them."
But why should Townsend, or any other player, ever need to provide her weight to the public, and possibly feel pressured to lie about it? Tracy Austin, who won the first of her U.S. Open title at age 16, says players starting out on the tour are especially vulnerable. "You're talking about girls that are on the road, oftentimes very young, and going through extreme highs and lows emotionally," says Austin, who’s now a broadcaster. "So these can be very difficult times and very trying times, and I don't think weight should be emphasized."
In a perfect world, it might be refreshing if every woman on tour happily reported her real weight, removing all stigma from the scale and showing that athletic women can come in many sizes. Mary Carillo, another former player-turned-television commentator, theorizes that today’s muscular players would weigh more than fans expect, noting that “it would actually be cooler if their weight was heavier than they looked." In reality, though, Carillo says that weight is “a ridiculous stat. And I'm not sure that it does any good at all. Because people are always going to question it, so it ends up being pretty bogus."
Andrea Petkovic agrees. "I don't think they need to know this," she says of players’ weights. "I mean, they see the bodies, they see the girls, and they can judge for themselves if they really want to—although judging is not great. But if they really want to judge, they can judge by the looks. They don't need to know."
College athletic departments have thought along these lines for years, declining to publish the weights of female athletes. This is immediately noticeable in sports such as basketball, where the men's roster will nearly always have each player's weight listed, while the women's roster lists none.
Unlike the NFL, where potential players are weighed and measured for drafting purposes at a league-sanctioned combine, there is no party in tennis that would stand to gain from knowing a player's weight.
The WTA representative I spoke to agreed that weight was not vital to publish, but said removing the statistics "would be more of an issue than leaving them in," adding that the category was already built into television graphics. Broadcasters, however, say graphics can easily be changed, and that a player’s poundage gives little insight into her playing style, and therefore isn’t necessary to tell the story of a match.
"Other people will say, well, they're out there in the public, so it should be a stat that we should know," says Austin. "But if it's a stat that we should know, then it should be accurate. And if it's not going to be accurate, why have it? And it's clearly not accurate. And if women are sensitive about it, and it's not accurate, it's not working."
For her part, Petkovic believes that a player's weight alone has little bearing on her ability to win a match. "That doesn't make a difference," she says. "When I was 15, I sucked as a tennis player. But I was 10 kilos lighter."
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