28 March 2019

Why we must never stop mixing it

We were not just saddened but quite cross to hear that the Hopman Cup was under threat as its spot in the tennis calendar is taken by a new men-only ATP event, says Local Tennis League founder, Sally Kinnes

The Hopman Cup is one of the most prestigious team events in tennis. But more than that, it is one of the very few that is a mixed event. It may be named after a great Australian male player, Harry Hopman, but the players who have lifted the trophy are from a roll of honour of names from men's and women's tennis. Monica Seles, Steffi Graf, Serena Williams have all been champions as have Boris Becker and Roger Federer. 

The event has long been important as a warm up for the Australian Open and it is hugely entertaining. Ironically, in what might be its last edition, it garnered its biggest-ever crop of headlines when, in doubles, Roger Federer took on Serena Williams (and tweeted their selfie).

So why does the Hopman Cup mean so much to us?

When I set up Local Tennis Leagues fourteen years ago as a way for ordinary players to get a chance to play friendly, competitive tennis, it never occurred to me that women wouldn't play men. I suppose I'm from a generation of women that battled to be treated equally and am the kinda girl who never assumed that a man would necessarily be better than a woman at anything.

Without going near the trivial questions about whether or not John McEnroe would beat Serena Williams, or rehearsing the important questions of equality of opportunity that Billy Jean King raised in her Battle of the Sexes, the Hopman Cup was a chance for professional athletes of either gender to show each other respect and demonstrate at the highest level that tennis is a game for all.

Tennis thrived in the early days precisely because it was a sport that men and women could enjoy together - both as partners and opponents in mixed matches they were free from the hierarchies that dominated other sports (such as croquet with its male captains).

Yet it wasn't long before the place of women in the sport became criticised and the women who played were accused of being unfeminine. Women had to battle to secure their place in the professional game, but somewhere along the way, the mixed tennis that played its part in the emancipation of women in Victorian and Edwardian Britain, was forgotten, then trivialised.

In our leagues, men play women in singles and in our doubles leagues, teams can be any combination of the gender. What matters to us is the tennis and the respect we have for each other.

The Hopman Cup is not a throw-back to the past, but a pointer to an important part of the future of tennis. We join with Roger Federer, Serena Williams and all the others who have offered it support and hope the ITF, as it says it will, can find a way of rescuing this valuable tournament.

But what do you think? We hope you will want to carry on this discussion on twitter #SaveHopmanCup

If you want to join one of our mixed singles leagues see here. Or why not try a doubles leagues, such as:

Outside London: Manchester, NorwichOxford, Portsmouth, Southampton
North London: Highbury Fields, Holland Park [begins next week], Pavilion
South London: Battersea Park, LambethWandsworth 'All Star', Waterlow ParkWimbledon Park