Equal Prize Money Question in Tennis

This Article appears in Stuff.co.nz

Women’s tennis would benefit from five-set thrillers

When it comes to the slams, the women haven't even been offered the opportunity to play best-of-five. Simona Halep holds the trophy after being too good for Serena Williams in the Wimbledon women's final.
When it comes to the slams, the women haven’t even been offered the opportunity to play best-of-five. Simona Halep holds the trophy after being too good for Serena Williams in the Wimbledon women’s final.

OPINION: At this year’s Wimbledon, the women’s final between Simona Halep and Serena Williams lasted under one hour, ending in a 6-2 6-2 whitewash.

The men’s final between Novak Djokovic and Roger Federer lasted just under five hours in a five set thriller.

This will no doubt yet again bring up the frequently-discussed issue of equal prize money.

Way back in 1973, the US Open became the first tennis Slam tournament to offer equal prize money to men and women. The Australian and French Open events took until 2001 and 2006 respectively to follow suit. The ultra-traditional Wimbledon Grand Slam finally capitulated in 2007.

Ironically, the Grand Slam events, where the returns are equal, are the only ones where the men play best-of-five sets and the women best-of-three. The argument goes, so why should women be paid the same when they put in less effort?

But when it comes to the Slams, the women haven’t even been offered the opportunity to play best-of-five so it seems rather harsh to state that they play shorter matches and are therefore less deserving of equal prize money.

Serena Williams stretches to return in a ball in the Wimbledon women's final.
Serena Williams stretches to return in a ball in the Wimbledon women’s final.

It’s often stated that women wouldn’t have the stamina to play five sets, except it’s been shown that, in fact, women frequently outdo the men in this respect.

The 2019 Spine Race winner, Jasmin Paris, broke the course record by more than 12 hours over the 268-mile endurance event. The fastest man crossed the finishing line 15 hours after her.

Women have also outdone male rivals in endurance swimming and long-distance bike races as well as ultra-marathons.

And in marathon events, the distance run is 26.2 miles, regardless of gender.

Of course, at the Slams, if the women did play best-of-five it would wreak havoc with the scheduling. The event would probably have to be played over three weeks instead of two, unless the mixed doubles were scrapped which would be unfortunate since it’s the only opportunity for men and women to play with and against one another.

The solution might be for both to play best-of-three up until the quarterfinals, when the prize money starts getting really serious, and best-of-five thereafter. It would make for far more exciting women’s battles and there’d be less likelihood of a one-hour whitewash in the latter stages.

Another claim has been made by many of the male players that the women’s matches are less interesting than the men’s, and this does seem to be borne out by ticket prices, for instance, at Wimbledon.

At this year’s Wimbledon, men’s semis tickets cost £185 and finals £225 ((NZ$342 and NZ$416) each, whereas the women’s cost £160 and £185 (NZ$296 and NZ$342) respectively, which does seem a little strange since Wimbledon could probably fill the centre court ten times over.

The discrepancy in ticket prices is even more apparent on the Wimbledon Debentures website. A pair of tickets for the women’s semifinals in 2019 is priced at £2140 and for the men’s, £7600 (NZ$3963 and NZ$14,074). For the finals, the women’s tickets cost £2830 and the men’s £7830 (NZ$5240 and NZ$14,500), which clearly demonstrates that tickets for the men’s matches are more sought after.

Tennis legend Billie Jean King (right) and the women's breakaway tour came with a slogan "You've come a long way baby". But have we really?
Tennis legend Billie Jean King (right) and the women’s breakaway tour came with a slogan “You’ve come a long way baby”. But have we really?

I spoke to Sally Grant, former sports broadcaster and member of the All England Club, who said “I’d have much more difficulty in persuading guests to watch the women’s final than the men’s. Most people do regard the men’s game as more explosive and exciting, although I can see why Billie-Jean King got the WTA up and running to be on a par with men. And some women’s matches are so enthralling, I’d pay more to watch them than a men’s serve/volley match featuring, say, Kevin Anderson or John Isner.”

The Wimbledon men's final between Novak Djokovic and Roger Federer lasted just under five hours in a five set thriller.
The Wimbledon men’s final between Novak Djokovic and Roger Federer lasted just under five hours in a five set thriller.

And, as Gus Allen, a 25-year-old club player, says: “Maybe they should be paid the same on a symbolic basis in that women’s sport has been devalued for so long. We have to accept that it’s a different game because of physical differences. It doesn’t make it any lesser.”

However, Raymond Moore, former CEO of Indian Wells once made the rather inflammatory statement, “If I was a lady tennis player I’d go down on my knees to give thanks for Nadal and Federer” and “Female players ride on the coat-tails of the men”.

My answer to that would be that the male players should also get down on their knees since Federer and Nadal have pulled in massive TV audiences and have created huge interest in the game.

And then so has Serena Williams, whose match at US Open final in 2018 against Naomi Osaka drew in over 3.1 million viewers, whereas the men’s final between Novak Djokovic and Juan Martin del Potro attracted 2.07 million.

In the vast majority of tournaments outside the Slams, the men earn considerably more than the women. For instance, at the Italian Open the men’s winner gets almost double the women’s champion.

Back in the 70s when King formed the women’s breakaway tour, the sponsors’ slogan was “You’ve come a long way baby”. But have we really?

In the words of Simon Usborne, Financial Times journalist, “It’s important to showcase the sexist undercurrent that exists everywhere, something women have to deal with every day; with men who secretly – and anonymously – truly believe that women are somehow less. Less able, less intelligent, less tenacious, less deserving.”

Katrina Allen is a former Junior Wimbledon player and former world number one at the original game of Real Tennis.

1 day ago
Don Twori

Five sets is ridiculous anyway.   What other sport expects the players to take their bodies to the absolute limit every couple of days?  It just can’t be done, so any of them who have strenuous five -setters in the quarters or semis know their chances of winning the final are slim.  Look at the longest five setter ever, Isner vs Mahut;  they were both wrecks afterwards, and Isner meekly succumbed in the next match.

If you can’t beat someone in three sets, why is it reasonable to expect attrition to be on your side?  All the other tournaments are best of three.  Plus who can honestly say they would rather watch a four-hour match?  Let common sense rule, and make them all best of three sets.
2 days ago

Definitely even it up. It would be interesting to see how some of the women’s top seeds deal with the added fitness needed to play five sets. A certain Serena jumps to mind.

I remember years ago Lleyton Hewitt ground his way to a final after playing 5 sets in every game. The disparity in games played by the men and women finalists doesn’t justify the same prize money, from a common sense or commercial view.
2 days ago
This is business….3/5 fifths the work 3/5 fifths the pay. I feel sorry for the men further down who battle in early rounds over 5 sets to earn next to nothing like the women get for the never ending 2 set white washes in semi and finals. How many no name women players make it to a slam semi or final never to come again and earn more money in one tournament than guys who battle consistently just outside the top ranks in a year. I bet if you split the Slams into 2 events the women’s event would struggle for spectators compared to the mens. Equal pay for equal work I agree but the product is just not as good and this should be reflected in remuneration sorry. Off to the Ausi open will I pay double or triple to see Fed V Serena you bet I will.
2 days ago
Blinky Brad
For equal pay they should definitely play 5 sets. I still won’t watch it until the semis as the quality is not as high as the men’s game. The argument they couldn’t handle it physically is a joke. Of course they can.
2 days ago
Let’s be honest. The real reason to play best of 3 up to the 1/4s is the matches will be non events. This is a desperate bid to justify equal prize money (even a best of 5 the women would be on court half as long), and a cherry picking article. Battles have to be chosen a bit more wisely otherwise people will just start turning off. What’s next? A female 007?
2 days ago

Does anyone still really think women cant play five sets.Thats a red herring.Its the extra scheduled playing time increasing for women’s games which will be the real challenge for tournament organisers.

Payment for matches should be based on revenue stream pure and simple. Clearly Serena Williams for example because of the worldwide interest in her should be paid the big bucks.
2 days ago
foxco chev
makes mens games the best of 3 sets
get rid of mens and womens drawers
everyone in one main drawer
may the best player win
2 days ago
If we removed the players’ “drawers” we might boost the ratings but attract the wrong sort of audience.

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