When Penny Harrison, the main character from my debut new adult novel, GAME. SET. MATCH. popped into my head, I knew she was a tennis player. I knew that in the same way I knew her dad was biracial, that she had two brothers, and that she was possibly the most internally motivated character I’ve ever conceived. Penny’s chosen sport offered a world of opportunities without any preset limitations or glass ceilings because tennis is the only major sport where men and women are on an equal playing field. Wimbledon is Wimbledon, Olympic gold is Olympic gold and being Number 1 in the world is Number 1, whether you’re a man or a woman. Maria Sharapova and Serena Williams are just as famous as Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal.
Or as close to equal as it gets.
There are debates to this day about equal prize money at Grand Slams. The ATP (the men’s tour) and the WTA (the women’s tour) are very much separate and do not always get the same prize money for similar tour events and of course there is the issue of looks and what makes a female athlete “marketable,” but when it comes down to it, tennis fans are tennis fans and stars in women’s tennis have as many and sometimes more opportunities as their male counterparts. Thus, when I was writing, I could approach my characters and their stories organically.
Had Penny been the best basketball player in the world, her fame would maybe have been equal to that of a decently well-known NBA player, certainly never reaching the level of a LeBron James. Soccer? There are famous women’s soccer players in the US, like Alex Morgan and Hope Solo, but around the world, the popularity of women’s “football” is almost nil compared to the men’s game. Golf? There’s Tiger Woods and then there’s everyone else and even an uber-sports fan like myself is nearly at a loss to name a famous female golfer (okay, that’s a lie, Michelle Wie and Paula Kremer both come to mind, but again I’m a HUGE sports fan).
There is a reverse effect as well. Had Penny been a gymnast, I would have had to consider that men’s gymnastics is not nearly as popular as women’s and that any fame on her part would likely eclipse that of an equally or even more accomplished man.
It’s because Penny is a tennis player that I could make her, her friends, her love interest and her competitors as famous or as under-the-radar as I wanted. Therefore, Game.Set.Match is not about whether you are male or female, but how you play the game.