© Ella Ling

Serena Williams hair

Who benefits if women play best of five at the slams?

Amid the hullaballoo of Wimbledon’s announcement that is raising prize money by an average of 40 percent for this year’s Championships, the issue of equal prize money in tennis raised its less than pretty head, yet again.
It is six years now since Wimbledon caught up with the US Open by offering the women the same prize money as the men across the board. And yet every year, there is still the odd questioning or dissenting voice, asking if the women really deserve it. It was good to hear Wimbledon say, this week, that they are committed to equal prize money. That ship, surely, has sailed.

Unless there is a huge change in society and in terms of tennis, a move back to the dark ages, there is no going back on the decision. Giving women equal pay was to bring tennis into the 21st century, an acknowledgement that the women were giving their all in the same way the men do.

Now the main argument against equal prize money in tennis, at grand slam level, is that the two events are not the same; the men play best-of-five set matches and the women (only) best of three. Why should they be paid the same when they are not putting in as much “effort”?

But as is continually overlooked in this debate, the difference in physiology between men and women means that both sexes are putting in just as much effort as each other. For a woman to play a lung-busting three-set match is just as much effort as for a man to play a five-setter.

With £23,000 being given to first-round losers, the simple thinking might be that someone who loses 6-1, 6-1 in round one is onto a nice little earner. But for the vast majority of those first-round losers, earning a place in the main draw of a grand slam event is something that has required years of hard work, dedication and a lot of sacrifice. It used to be said that Wimbledon’s fondness for giving wildcards to home players was unfair and effectively funding their year, but in recent times, the rule of thumb that a British player has to be inside the world’s top 250 to even stand a chance of getting one has changed that.

The lack of strength in depth in the women’s game was another stick with which to beat it and there are plenty of people who still shake their heads when the first round is littered with one-sided victories. But it might be pointed out that in last year’s Wimbledon, 31 of the 64 men’s first-round matches were over in straight sets (including a number of retirements). (It was 43 in the women’s event, for the record.) No one pointed the finger at Albert Ramos when he won three games against Roger Federer in round one; yet plenty did as the big guns in the women’s event cruised through.

There is no difference in how much effort a woman has to make to be a top-level tennis player to that of a man. There is no difference in the cost of their equipment. Coaches cost the same kind of money as the men, hotels are no cheaper for women, airlines don’t charge women less. Their parents make the same sacrifices for their daughters as for their sons, when it comes to being a glorified taxi service and investors in their child’s dreams.

Could women play five sets? Of course they could and not that long ago, the season-ending WTA Championships had a five-set final. But the standard dropped as the matches wore on and the competitiveness diminished. Would TV companies like it if women’s matches were the best of five sets at grand slams, reducing the number of matches they could cover each day? I doubt it. Tennis is one of the few sports that has men and women competing alongside each other, if not together (mixed doubles is an obvious exception) and tournaments benefit from having both.

In fact there is a pretty good argument to be had that the men and women should play just the best of three sets in slams, for their own long-term health. The growing number of injury problems on the men’s Tour, in part no doubt because of the wear and tear on hard courts, might be reduced if they only had to play three sets. The finals of Masters 1000s used to be five sets; now they are three.

But the overwhelming argument in favour of equal prize money is that it is about equality. The clue is in the words. If you suggest to women that they can play tennis, by all means, but they won’t be able to make as much money as the men and won’t be on a level footing, what kind of message does that convey? It took an awful lot of struggle and effort to get to this point. Equal prize money is here to stay.

  • Anonymous

    While I don’t think the women need to play five sets matches to earn equal pay, I would love to see what would happen if they played five-setters once in a while. Would the same women be on top or would the longer matches result in a re-jiggering of the ranks?

  • cookiedohj

    what bothers me is the argument used by many that ‘no one wants to watch womens tennis because it is boring; and pay should be based on what the public want to watch’ .. was it Giles Simon who even used that argument last year? .. atrocious from a professional tennis player .. but sadly it is the main reason used for lack of equality for women in most professional sports .. not helped by the minimal press coverage given to womens sport; you only need look through the sports section of any daily paper to see how biased sports reporting is

    • Ferdy-23

      It doesn’t matter if it bothers you or not, those are the facts. Viewing figures consistently show this, if the facts bother you then you must have a rather one sided view on this issue.

  • Gopal Natarajan

    “For a woman to play a lung-busting three-set match is just as much effort as for a man to play a five-setter.”

    Really? Do you have any way of measuring that? You can’t make such a quantitative comparison without some data to back it up. Also, are you saying women are weaker? That they inherently play at a lower physical threshold than men? That they are not, in fact, equal? Then what is the justification for equal prize money if you intend to use physical ability/exertion as a metric? Besides, the feminist argument in favor of equal prize money routinely poo-poo’s the ‘equal pay for equal work’ argument against, insisting that it’s about butts-in-seats, not time on court. Curious, then, that the author would go this route. And speaking of butts-in-seats, based on the financial statements released by the ATP and WTA at the end of the last couple of years, the women are not winning that argument either.

    “they won’t be able to make as much money as the men and won’t be on a level footing, what kind of message does that convey?”

    That’s pretty much the situation that women face in the regular job market in America, yet you don’t see women leaving or not entering the job market because of it. If this argument were so powerful, do you think you’d see any young women joining the WNBA?

    “It took an awful lot of struggle and effort to get to this point.”

    Well, that’s certainly a fashionable statement, but it’s pretty meaningless. The “struggle” is a means, not an end.

    • LaughingAllTheWayToTheBank

      The best of luck in getting a life.

      • Gopal Natarajan

        Best of luck having an original thought.

        • Steve-hatch

          Laughing all the way to the bank. You must be one bitter soul if thats all you can up with! Ha ha! Nothing to say, pathetic. Well done Gopal for a well reasoned and sensible argument. Laughing – get a life and you’ll need all the luck in the world.

          • James

            In with Gopal and Steve on this one!

  • Team_Fedex

    A woman coming in to my office and doing the same job, should of course be paid the same as me.
    Danica Patrick, driving race cars, should of course be paid the same as the men, because she is doing the same job, in the same race.
    The only equivalent would be if the men’s and womens’s draws at Wimbledon were merged, and everyone played together. Would the women support this? I doubt it.

  • Rob

    I prefer to watch mens tennis because they are much better players. Some of the women are much better looking (oops, I said it) and as a man I find that to be entertaining. I would never pay to see women play basketball or football, but I did go to a womens tennis tournament once when it was a short drive from where I live. It was sort of entertaining and I got to shake hands with Ana Ivanovic . I have never washed my hand since then and it really bugs my wife because she’s a germaphobe (just kidding) :)

  • Anonymous

    Best of five matches are too long, who the hell sits through an entire five set match (unless it’s fed-nad)? Men should play three-setters too, but the issue is that I/we want there to be a difference between the grand slams and all the other tournaments. I would like women to play five sets too. I am an unfit women, and I have played five setters many times. Granted, i hurt all over afterwards, but then I am no serena williams.

    The argument that women aren’t as good players is ridiculous. We don’t root for players just cause they’re good but because, one way or another, we identify with them. Or we just find them interesting. The men of the 70s, who didn’t train as hard as they would have to today, would have lost easily to todays strong men. Yet they were way more popular than todays men. And nobody thinks of them as “bad”.

    To the men who are convinced they don’t like women’s tennis because the women aren’t as good: ALL women I know who are tennis fans think men’s tennis is boring. A few of them will watch fed-nad finals, but that’s it. That’s because generally, women will prefer to watch women, and men will prefer to watch men. So again, it’s all about who you identify with.

    • D_fens

      Well last years Wimbledon finals viewing figures peaked at nearly 17 million for the mens match and 6 for the women’s so that 11 million that disagree with you about which match is more entertaining. So well done on that one. To fight for parity without recognising or acknowledging the facts is sexism. So well done again.

      • Rickumd

        You and your women friends must have a great time slagging off men! Sounds like a group of people NOBODY would want to be friends with.

        • Anonymous

          wtf are you talking about? we don’t slag off men! We think the men are great and obviously they would beat any woman in normal circumstances. We just aren’t interested, the way you are more interested in watching people from the same country or same city as you etc. Don’t make up stuff in your head that I didn’t even say.

      • Anonymous

        I have no idea what you are talking about, it has nothing to do with what I said. I was talking about how I think women should play five sets too, but that I at the same time think that five sets is too long (for the first round matches). What fact am I not acknowledging here??

        I only added to the men commenting that women’s tennis is boring, to not be convinced they think it’s boring because the women aren’t as good, but rather because they don’t identify with this gender. And I also pointed that it is perfectly okay to think this way, because I think both men and women do it. I have soccer friends too who prefer to watch the women, not because they think the men are inherently less entertaining, but because as women they are just more interested in the women.

        Please point to the exact thing that I said that you think is incorrect. Because the viewing figures has nothing to do with anything I said. There was a time when the women had far more viewers than men, in the grand slams as well as the other tournaments (yet still they got less prize money than the men). So talking about the difference
        in viewers is meaningless. It has more to do with the players, how good they are and how good the rivalry is, what time/day it is aired, whether there is a home player, if it’s well known players etc.

        And by the by, where I come from, the channel only bought the rights to men’s final of this years Wimbledon, but not the women’s. Obviously thinking the same way you do. Even the men complained about this on the channels webpage. So maybe the difference in viewership wouldn’t had been this big, if you and the tv-channels hadn’t assumed that everyone finds women’s tennis as boring as you do.

  • PaulO

    Do women run shorter marathons? I’m sorry but if women are weaker (as is suggested I the article, and which I disagree with) and can’t play as long, they should get paid less. In any job Pay is normally what you get on return for the work done, not the effort put in. If you do less work (for whatever reason) you get paid less. Using the argument ‘it’s to do with effort put in’, then everyone in the tournament should get the same, as I’m sure the less talented entrants who lose in the first round are trying just as hard as the champions. When Murray loses in the final, is it because he didn’t put in as much effort and Nadal?!

    • Anonymous

      Nobody cares? Get over it. Women get paid the same at grand slams and there is nothing you or any loser on this forum can do about it. Move on.

  • Anonymous

    In terms of the equal pay thing – since Venus’ letter and her “triumph” of getting equal prize money for less work – has she demanded that either men and women both play best of 5 or best of 3 .. and that people are charged just as much for the women’s final tickets as they are for the men’s? I was surprised at the difference – women’s final – £715 / men’s final – £1835 .

    Apart from the fact that both these prices are utterly ridiculous – why aren’t Venus and the others refusing to play unless people pay the same to see them?

    Because .. they know that more people watch the men’s tennis and that it is, most of the time, of a far higher standard (otherwise we wouldn’t segregate the players, would we?). She’s happy to get the extra cash and pretend things are “equal”, but really not interested in dealing with any of the other issues involved.

  • James

    You say it’s all to do with the “physiology” so you’re saying the reason they can’t do 5 sets is because they dont have the same stamina as men? I’m not sure they’d agree with you. Look at women marathon runners – do they only run 15 miles? Women should do 5 sets, same as men.

  • Ben Roberts

    I’m all for equal pay, but women need to put in the equal WORK…AKA: SETS. 3 sets does not equal 5 sets. I like how some women cry equality…when it helps their cause. I never heard the female players say they’ll play 5 set matches to justify the equal pay. Play 5 sets worth of tennis…then it’s worth 5 set prize money.

    If I were on the men’s circuit, I’d protest and ask why am I busting my butt in 5 set matches when I could get equal pay like the women by playing just 3 sets? I’ll flip this debate on it’s head. Now what?

  • Ben Roberts

    Easy analogy: In the job market, Bob and Jill have identical jobs. Bob works 12 hour shifts and Jill works 8 hour shifts. Who should earn more money at the end of the week?

    You see it’s not even an issue. Case closed. Next.

  • Timuras Feministas

    So if women must be paid the same amount for winning a GS because of their physiology despite ratings, popularity… then if a woman and a man are both work as builders 8 hours a day. Should a woman earn more according to your logic?

  • Alan

    Your absolutely correct. Its disgusting we pay women less than men.
    But hey, lets start paying wheelchair users the same as men and women
    then! And in all other sports too!

    This rhetoric is so stupid. If
    women want to get paid the same as men they should combine both sports,
    and then we will see how far women get. I doubt even one woman would
    qualify for Wimbledon. And getting as far as the second week of
    Wimbledon, you can forget it. If women want to be on the same level as
    men, then hey, lets stop separating everybody, we don’t have a Black
    men’s basketball and then a White men’s basketball.

    MINIMUM women
    should have to provide the same value of entertainment as men. That
    would have to be 5 sets. Can you imagine if female footballers got paid
    the same as their counterparts, and only had to play 60 minute matches?

    is the stupidest thing about this whole affair is that ticket prices
    for mens cost more than it does for women.. Like hello?!?! They’re
    making more money on the mens event, and then men have to share their
    share of the money that they generated with women?!

  • Rizzleusa

    I want to see players out there doing amazing things. Watching women’s matches seem less interesting, because I feel like “I could have made that shot”, or “I’m faster than her”. Why not give equal pay to wheelchair tennis? What about Down’s syndrome tennis… Etc al. Where does it end? I appreciate the women and their participation in the sport, but this should be based on economics. Today’s final was a fine example of a match I never wished I had watched. I should be paid for watching something so awful… Crying and all. Although I watched, I could have cared less, and found other things to do during commercials and critical points. The truth is in the economics. Sorry ladies! :(

  • confused

    women should be paid equal because they arent equal? my head hurts so much…

  • DRO

    A painfully unreasoned article. If you want pay to be EQUAL, the pay all the doubles champs, juniors, seniors, wheelchair players the same. If you want it to be FAIR pay the players that sell tickets.

    Women players getting paid the same as the men is one of the most astonishingly unjust ideas I’ve ever heard of, and it’s offensive to think it’s been done under the name of equality.

  • Gordon Mac Donald

    There are so many women matches where I just don’t see women seriously go the distance during grandslam rounds. It’s always a mental game, biggest aspect of women’s tennis. If you are on course, you’ll win the first set, if you blink, you might find yourself in the 3rd set, where just 20 min. later the outcome already might be decided…
    If you win 2 grueling sets in the men’s game (even wildcards vs ranked players), you’ll be pretty sure that it’s NOT only mentality that will win it all, but persistence, determination and character (plus a little bit of fitness if I might add) that will decide if it will be straight sets, 4 or a decisive 5th.
    Collecting checks under the same circumstances please… just like PaulO stated.

  • tennisplayer

    it shouldn’t be equal women do not play for as long so they are not working as much so they shouldn’t get paid as much in one tournament and women already make more money because they can play more matches and compete in both singles and doubles also they dont pull in as big a crowd mens do who goes to a grand slam to see womens matches i dont and know one i know does

  • SteveOL

    “For a woman to play a lung-busting three-set match is just as much effort as for a man to play a five-setter.”

    What absolute tripe. Teachers, electricians, taxi drivers, accountants, surgeons, GPs, jockeys, race car drivers, fire fighters, journalists, politicians………

    All spend the same time at work doing the same job no matter their gender and therefore receive the same pay.

  • colono

    The number of sets arguement is a bit of a red herring, sport isnt like real life, where a male and female office worker will get the same pay – sport earnings are based on ratings, sponsors, advertising – can anyone argue that viewers/sponsors are as interested in the womens game in general? Maybe im wrong but that isnt my impression of the tennis I see/read about.

  • Anonymous

    Let’s play the logical fallacy game:

    1. Unproven premise: The difference in physiology means women are putting in “the same effort”-sorry-you offer NO proof for that-you merely assert it as an “accepted fact”. Absent proof your argument fails.

    2. The biggie: Two things that are not equal to one another are NEVER equal to one another: You assert all sorts of reasons about “sacrifice by parents” etc.-but the bottom line is this: playing 2/3 is NOT equal to playing 3/5. Equal pay for UNEQUAL work is equality? On it’s face that argument is entirely bogus. You do NOT acheive equality by paying two people the same amount of money for LESS work.

    Any “real feminist” who supports “equal pay for equal work” should logically REJECT the proposition that “doing less entitles me to equal pay”-or, alternatively, admit s/he is a hypocrite.