Novak Djokovic and the possibly former CEO of Indian Wells incurred the wrath of many a person last week when theysaid out loud that in tennis, women should not be paid the same as men.
Now, as a passionate viewer of tennis, and a considered person who has thought about this subject a lot, I somewhat agree. Let’s get the disclaimers out of the way before I explain myself… I’m female but I’m not a female tennis player. I watch a lot of tennis… Not just Wimbledon because I’m British; or the slams because they’re… well, slams, I watch as much of the season as I can, following both men and women.
What I do when I ponder a situation is I take anything emotive away and just deal with the actual facts, which apparently is hard for some people to comprehend. In the case of Djokovic he is somewhat wrong. The main tournament structure (not including slams), in terms of ranking points is that the winners get 250, 500, and 1000 points should they win and prize money rises accordingly. This applies to men and women and they all play the same best of three sets. So here, I am all for equal and fair prize money (although I would deduct a few quid from the women for getting coaching on court during a match which as far as I’m aware the men can’t do) because all things are equal. And this is why in the case of the possibly former CEO of Indian Wells, if he’s talking about his tournament; he’s absolutely wrong because the men and women play the same best of three set format, and maybe he should consider that in the 2016 finals, Azarenka and Williams (women, just in case it’s unclear) played more games in their final than Djokovic and Raonic. Just saying.
When it comes to the four slams though, I believe equal pay is unfair because women play best of three whilst the men play best of five. Let me take you back to the 2010 Wimbledon tournament and an example from the many… Both Anastasia Pivovarova and Nicolas Mahut lost their respective first round matches and would have received the same prize money.
But let’s drill down and look at the two matches…
Anastasia played Maria Sharapova and the score line was 6-1 6-0, a total of 13 games in 2 sets. I can’t find the info on how long the match was but it was probably around an hour.
Nicolas played John Isner and the score line was… (*takes a deep breath) 6-4 3-6 6-7(7) 7-6(3) 70-68, a total of 183 games, and two tie breaks in 5 sets. This match played out over three days and took 11 odd hours.
Does it seem fair to anyone that the loser of each of these matches walked away with the same cheque? I know Isner v Mahut was an extreme example and could only happen at Wimbledon or the Australian open (US & Roland Garros have a tie break in the final set) , but it’s a example to be made.
Incidentally Serena Williams played a total of 129 games & 2 tie breaks in 7 rounds of the singles to win the tournament, taking the final in 2 sets, and Rafael Nadal played 250 games and 3 tie breaks, taking the final in 5 sets to win.
Another disadvantage that the men have is that the top flight male players struggle to play any other format within the slam tournament’s because of the best of 5 sets structure, whilst most of the women can afford enter the doubles and mixed doubles too because the singles is best of 3. So not only do many women receive the same pay as their male counterparts, they can do the same in two other formats because they have the time and the energy. That being said, I never want the men to go down to 3 sets, because it’s a slam, it’s supposed to be hard. I want the women to play 5 sets, because slams are supposed to be hard.