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Equal pay in tennis

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Nadal and Djokovic after their 6 hour epic. Kudos, boys...

I had a friend (just 1) tell me that I should blog about what I did, hour by hour, during the Nadal-Djokovic 6 hour epic on Sunday night.

Unfortunately for everyone, the end result would look something like this –

Set 1 – Watched Modern Family and Homeland

Set 2 – Went to bed

Sets 3 to 5 – See above

Not exactly an enthralling piece, you’d say. (Insert sarcastic comment about the quality of previous pieces here _______).

But a very interesting point has arisen as a result of the unbelievable Men’s Final, of which I saw not 1 groundstroke.

These amazing, athletic, endurance-riddled superstars went at it like no other Grand Slam Final has ever been ‘gone at it’ before. Their first set alone went 80 minutes.

The entire women’s final went 93.


We are stepping into daaaaangerous waters here in talking about the issue of equal prize money in tennis, I know, but I’m confident enough in this readership to know that we can touch on this touchy subject without any overt drama or innuendo. I’ve asked both female and male friends about this and the responses have been fairly measured…

However, if you do want an un-politically-correct piece absolutely slamming equal pay, read this! Contrarily, if you’d like a ‘We’re gonna get equal pay from now on – just get over it!’ – go for this one

Most of the arguments for the ‘men vs women’ pay dispute end up in 4 main categories –

1.  Men play best of 5 sets, women – only 3…

To be honest, I’m trying to put on my best Devil’s Advocate hat here, and I’m still struggling to see the justification for this. Statistically speaking, men’s matches are twice as likely to go to 4 sets as women’s to 3.

Sharapova go a 6 hour ordeal? ... Doubt it

That’s not to say that women’s matches can’t go to 5, of course they can. There are a plethora of female marathon runners, triathletes, Ironman triathletes… It’s just that women will wear down quicker than the men. The quality of play will reduce over the course of a 5 set match.

We should point out here that men only play best of 5 sets in Grand Slam events – 4 times a year, as well as the Davis Cup team event. The rest of the tournaments on the ATP tour are best of 3, including finals… It’s acknowledged that everyone will wear out if all matches are best of 5.

Still, it’s hard to make a strong argument for equality when the lengths gone to in order to achieve victory are so vastly different.

2.  The quality is nowhere near the same

Let’s say we put Federer, ranked 3, on a court with … Maria Sharapova, also ranked 3rd and see what happens! It won’t be pretty … well, except for Roger Off the record, John McEnroe will tell you that every male player on the pro circuit could beat the top ranked women’s players…

The Federer backhand. Unstoppable, for man or woman...

The numbers also don’t add up. The strongest female player in the game – Serena Williams – is more than 10% down on someone like Andy Roddick. (Top serves of 184km/f vs 208km/h) The men serve stronger, hit more powerfully and can jump quicker and higher. And I lifted most of that previous sentence from a female blogger!

3.  Women’s tennis is just as entertaining

Here’s where I have a little bit of a different slant on this topic. I think women’s tennis can be almost as entertaining to watch as the men’s. Though not for me. I’d rather watch the paint on my newly decorated nursery dry than watch a women’s game that doesn’t include an Aussie, Steffi Graf, Chris Evert or Martina Hingis, so generally speaking, I’m probably going to be waiting a while.

(German Andrea Petkovic gets a leave pass on this. How dare other players complain about the victory dance! Plus she posts fake news conferences about herself on YouTube, tongue firmly in cheek. What’s not to like?!)

Bring back the Petkovic victory dance!

But who really wants to watch an event that goes for 6 freaking hours?! Not me. And at a show of hands at my work the day after the final, of 100+ people, maybe 4 stayed up to see it all. (Out of 2.4 million Australians, I’ll grant you.) Do we really feel ripped off when a match ‘only’ goes 90 minutes or 2 hours? Not really.

For the masses, women’s tennis is just as interesting and entertaining as is the men’s. There are discrepancies in the ratings, with the men’s ratings significant higher. Still, once this golden era of the top 3 superduperstars in Federer, Djokovic and Nadal ends, will that continue??

The unpredictability of women’s tennis provides yet another positive wrinkle to the tour – at the moment, you know it’s going to be some combination of Rafa, Federer and Djokovic in the Men’s Final, although the British and American press will try and convince you otherwise in the middle stages of the tournament with Murray and Roddick respectively…

With the women, who knows?! Aussie Sam Stosur wins the US Open in September and hasn’t made a 3rd round since. We had Wozniacki at no. 1 for 67 weeks, 49 of them in a row, and she never won a grand slam!

Name this Grand Slam winner (without looking at my list of names)

In the last 2 years, we have had 7 different female grand slam winners – Azarenka, Clisters, Serena Williams, Li Na, Schiavone, Kvitova and of course Stosur, from 7 different countries!

You can bag the women for their inconsistency (as many do) or you can embrace the new stars and stories that are bound to break out at every Grand Slam event.

4.  Women work just as hard as the men

Look, it’s hard to disagree, here. We don’t give out ‘lesser’ gold medals to the winner of the Women’s 100m Final at the Olympics. Why should women receive less if they are the best in their chosen field?

Stosur at work

It’s not like anyone wants a mixed tennis tour. (I’m serious. Who watches mixed doubles!?)

A sidestep

Part of my research for this piece also turned over an interesting sidebar – that many men, fans and ex-players feel it an unnecessary challenge to speak their mind on this issue for the fear of appearing sexist.

Commentators on the game know that any perceived anti-female sentiments will see their generous media contracts ripped up quicker than a Kardashian marriage certificate.

Let’s be reasonable!

We should feel free to speak openly and reasonably about this topic. For many, though, the argument seems moot, as (a) It’s not like it’s ever going to change (it won’t, not in this PC age), and (b) If we pay the women less, that doesn’t mean that the men will get more than they do now, so what’s the point?!

So, enjoy them both, or not. It’s hard in some areas to justify equal pay when the consistency, power, technique, athleticism and endurance are so vastly different, but there are reasons to support equal pay.

Regardless, the top money earners are getting kajillions, so maybe our focus should be on our nurses and their current pay dispute. Cos we can’t live without them!


About petek8

Pete Evans has just finished going 12 months without watching any sport. The journey stemmed from a sense that the balance was out-of-whack with my time and my priorities. Everything seemed to revolve around creating enough time and space to fit in the last game, games, recap shows or space to surf the net for the latest numbers and analysis. The cycle never ends - one season leads into another, seasons overlap if you follow various sports and the media's insatiable appetite for a new 'story' means that even the greatest of achievements aren't heralded for more than 3 days. So I stepped away from the machine for awhile and intentionally engaging with the journey by writing about it.

5 responses »

  1. Summed up with the comments about the Nurses. Well said, an excellent piece.

  2. I don’t reckon the issue is equal pay for the winners. If you’re the best in the world, you’re the best in the world. Simple as that. But the also rans shouldn’t be paid the same. If the men have to play extra sets compared to other tournaments, they should be paid more for their time.

    The big issue with tennis is the extravagance of the prize money in general. $2.3million to the winner…seriously?

    $454,000 for winning the doubles.
    $135,000 for winning mixed doubles.

    $20,800 if you lose in the first round of singles! 6-0. 6-0…thanks, I’ll have my $20,800 now.

    • It’s hard to complain when you’re getting that kind of coin for a first round exit, but after reading Agassi’s book, they do need to do pretty well to break even / make money with a traveling trainer &/or coach with the non-stop international flights and accommodation. That also seemed to be at the core of Nadal etc’s issue with Federer not doing enough for the lesser players in his role as president of the Players Council. True, though, it’s a lot of money. We’re in the wrong profession…!

  3. You won’t see a better case study to support your argument than the two finals we just saw. If you shelled out money, you’d feel seriously ripped off with what was dished up on Saturday night. Sharapova rolled over quicker than Ooze in a pillow fight.

    I suspect tennis is being used as a vehicle to fight the larger “equal pay” battle. Women are still paid less for similar jobs across the world. Perhaps it’s thought that by creating equal pay in high profile events such as the Grand Slams, then that will help change the culture at a more local level.

    • Yep, very good point, and not one I’d considered. If equal pay in pro tennis is part of a bigger picture of promoting equal pay on a broader scale, then I’m happy for it to continue, though specifically, I think it’s a joke.


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