‘I Really feel Like We Deserve Higher’: How and Why Tennis Lets Girls Down

by Christina S. Brown
0 comment

This text is a part of the launch of prolonged tennis protection on The Athletic, which is able to transcend the baseline to carry you the most important tales on and off the court docket. To comply with the tennis vertical, click on right here.

Final month on the Madrid Open, Coco Gauff was warming up on the least fascinating follow courts when she noticed some male gamers — with out small numbers subsequent to their names — on the a lot better courts.

Gauff is aware of the misogynist historical past of the event. She partnered with compatriot Jessica Pegula towards Victoria Azarenka and Beatriz Haddad Maia within the ladies’s doubles closing in 2023, after Azarenka and different gamers commented on unfair scheduling and the scale disparity of birthday truffles for Carlos Alcaraz and Aryna Sabalenka.

Officers refused to let the foursome converse after the match.

Gauff mentioned she had seen progress this 12 months. However she couldn’t assist however discover the weirdness: she, a Grand Slam champion and the world No 3, was warming up at an occasion only one rung under the U.S. Open on “actually unhealthy” courts.

“If you look out on the follow court docket and also you see guys who’re ranked 30 or 40 spots decrease than you on the court docket, you’re like ‘OK, what occurred?’” she mentioned just a few days later.


Gauff through the Madrid Open (Oscar del Pozo/AFP by way of Getty Photographs)

Perhaps that doesn’t sound like a giant deal. She performed her match on the highest court docket, in a fascinating time slot. There are many advantages that Gauff and a handful of different ladies on the prime of tennis take pleasure in, together with prize cash and endorsements that may attain into the tens of hundreds of thousands of {dollars}.

Nonetheless, to exist as a feminine tennis participant in 2024 is to endure what can really feel like limitless slights: the micro-aggressions baked in; the structural inequality foundational to a sport run principally by males; stark set-piece examples of inequality that may be onerous to grasp and more durable to endure, for his or her magnitude, their reasoning, or extra generally each.

“I get just a little bit annoyed right here as a result of I really feel some tournaments in Europe can fancy males greater than ladies,” Ons Jabeur, the two-time Wimbledon finalist from Tunisia, instructed The Athletic in Madrid.

“I see that particularly on social media, extra posts concerning the males, extra this extra that and for me it’s actually irritating as a result of we play rather well. And it’s such, , a tremendous sport for girls. So I want we will be extra seen,” she mentioned.

“I feel we deserve higher.”

It’s not simply Europe.

Jabeur, 29, simply completed taking part in the Italian Open, the place the ladies competed for a prize pool of $5.5 million. The boys’s equal was $8.5 million.

In August, the women and men arrive on the Western & Southern Open in Mason, Ohio. The boys play for $7.9 million; the ladies for $6.8 million, though the event proprietor, Ben Navarro, has a daughter, Emma, who performs on the WTA Tour.

A event spokesperson didn’t reply to a request for remark.


The knee-jerk response is that ladies don’t herald as a lot cash as the boys, and in the event that they did they wouldn’t be second-class residents. But consider a counter-narrative: through the 55-year historical past of the game’s trendy period, if ladies had acquired the identical publicity and funding as males, and didn’t need to confront numerous boundaries and aggressions, maybe they might be bringing in the identical sum of money.

Take into account that more typically, the WTA Tour’s most profitable path to extra funding facilities on being in lockstep with the ATP Tour males, over letting Saudi Arabia, a rustic the place ladies shouldn’t have equal rights, pump cash into tennis.

How else do elite ladies get the quick finish of the racket deal with within the sport to which they dedicate their lives?

Allow us to rely — simply a few of — the methods.

go-deeper

GO DEEPER

Tennis’ prime ladies say the game is damaged. Because of this


Ever the bridesmaid

It’s the ultimate weekend of a Grand Slam event. The ladies’s singles closing takes place on the Saturday. The climax arrives 24 hours later, with the boys’s closing.

It’s been that approach principally without end. There’s an implicit message that everybody in tennis, from the little lady who simply began taking classes to the world No 1, receives.

Match officers usually say it must be this manner. The boys play best-of-five units within the Grand Slams; the ladies play best-of-three. (We’ll get to that. Now we have ideas.)

Whoever performs the ultimate on Saturday has to have at some point through the event the place two gamers compete on consecutive days, between the second day of quarter-finals and the semi-finals. Because the males play longer matches, it wouldn’t be truthful for his or her semi-finalists to need to play on consecutive days, wouldn’t it?


Marketa Vondrousova collapses after profitable Wimbledon 2023 towards Ons Jabeur (Tim Clayton/Corbis by way of Getty Photographs)

Maybe not. The French and Australian Opens now stretch their first spherical over three days, and the opposite Grand Slams may comply with swimsuit. Certainly there’s a permutation that enables the women and men who’ve reached the late levels of the height of their sport equal relaxation?

After all, there are additionally tv contracts that exist — tv contracts that get renegotiated on a regular basis. If there’s a will, maybe there’s a approach.

If there’s a will.

Darren Pearce, chief spokesperson for Tennis Australia, mentioned they’ve checked out a swap and can proceed to take action. They moved the ladies’s closing to Saturday night time in 2009 to maximise home publicity, however they’ve to contemplate time zones and worldwide publicity as effectively. Pearce cited Australian Ash Barty’s win in 2022 for example of the Saturday providing “a lot extra protection and publicity in Australia.”

The U.S. Open has checked out swapping the 2 finals “in an effort to optimize viewership and curiosity,” mentioned Brendan McIntire, a USTA spokesperson.

Final week (Wednesday Could 15), ESPN introduced that its free-to-air broadcaster, ABC, will present the U.S. Open males’s closing, although the ladies’s closing the day earlier than will stay on the pay channel, ESPN, as a result of ABC has contractual commitments to varsity soccer that Saturday.

The U.S. ladies’s closing has outperformed the boys’s closing 4 of the previous 5 years in tv viewership, and the boys’s closing competes with the opening weekend of the NFL. On this case, the second-class spot could also be a blessing.


A Wimbledon spokesperson mentioned the present set-up presents “the precise steadiness.”

What concerning the massive blended occasions the place each the ladies and the boys play best-of-three units? 

Indian Wells has a finals Sunday on which each the ladies and the boys play — guess who performs first? Cincinnati will maintain the finals on the identical day this 12 months, and we’ll see who goes first. Miami, Madrid and Rome have the ladies play Saturday, the boys Sunday. 

I don’t actually assume that it’s only a query of cash, but additionally respect,” Jabeur mentioned. “It’s small particulars that make the distinction.” 

It occurs in a macro approach, too. The WTA Tour Finals happen the week earlier than the ATP Tour Finals. The Billie Jean King Cup wraps up earlier than the Davis Cup, though there might be overlap from this 12 months.


Swiatek triumphed on this 12 months’s Indian Wells (Robert Prange/Getty Photographs)

Subsequent 12 months, Nice Britain’s Garden Tennis Affiliation will host a ladies’s WTA 500 on the Queen’s Membership in London. It is going to start instantly after the French Open, the week earlier than the boys take the stage at Queen’s, and within the build-up the main focus has been not on the advantages of a ladies’s event at such a prestigious occasion, however whether or not or not the ATP is pleased that the grass might be pristine sufficient for male toes after every week of tennis.

There is not going to be equal prize cash.

go-deeper

GO DEEPER

What is the one factor you’ll change about tennis?


Video games, units, and matches

Jessica Pegula, the world No 5 and a member of the WTA Participant Council made it very clear on the French Open in 2022.

“I don’t wish to play three out of 5,” Pegula mentioned. 

She’s hardly the one one. It’s a slog, with matches that may stretch past 5 hours, after which it’s important to do it once more two days later. There’s not a throng of ladies’s gamers clamoring for best-of-five tennis on the Grand Slams.

It’s nonetheless the third rail of equality in tennis. 


Aryna Sabalena en path to victory at this 12 months’s Australian Open (Andy Cheung/Getty Photographs)

Finest-of-five units solely exists on the Grand Slams, the place ladies and men compete for a similar prize cash — and a number of people complain that it’s equal pay for much less work each time it comes up. It’s a first-rate instance of one other uneven dynamic, the place ladies need to account for each potential bad-faith accusation that would emerge earlier than opening their mouths on the most important points of their sport.

Period isn’t the one factor of labor. Finest-of-three requires fast competitiveness, with little time for restoration. It’s not Swiatek’s fault that she is so good at plowing by the competitors, and it’s no participant’s fault that the most effective gamers within the males’s recreation would possibly drop two units to lesser opponents and need to claw again three.

It’s additionally not any WTA participant’s fault that tennis audiences typically dismiss the number of kinds within the ladies’s recreation as “boring” — although they’re most likely speaking with out watching. Anybody who has watched a WTA match this 12 months, particularly between Swiatek, Sabalenka, Gauff, and Rybakina must agree with the Pole’s feedback after her Madrid closing towards Sabalenka.

Who’s gonna say now that ladies‘s tennis is boring?

go-deeper

GO DEEPER

Males’s grand-slam matches are 25% longer than in 1999. Does one thing want to vary?

Stardom additionally fluctuates. When Wimbledon, and the French, U.S. and Australian Opens promote tickets, sponsorships and media rights, they principally don’t promote individually for the boys’s event and the ladies’s event. There have been loads of days and nights when Serena Williams was the featured match in New York and elsewhere, and a few guys had been the undercard or the afterthought. In Rome this month, the place women and men play best-of-three, the WTA semi-finals featured the prime three gamers on tour and the most effective type participant of 2024 in Danielle Collins, with the ultimate once more between world No 1 Swiatek and world No 2 Sabalenka.

The boys’s semi-finalists had a median rating of 19, with one of many finalists, Alexander Zverev, about to defend himself in a home abuse listening to whereas persevering with to play. A few of that’s to do with the caprices of damage and type — however they’re intrinsic elements of tennis, and so they don’t change the truth that the WTA Tour seems to be locking in to a generational rivalry whereas the ATP Tour is in relative flux.

If the same dynamic emerges at Roland Garros, is the boys’s occasion nonetheless qualitatively higher due to two extra units?

Billie Jean King, the trailblazing Grand Slam champion and founding figurehead of the WTA Tour, is adamant: so long as there are completely different codecs, there might be inequality.

Grasp round along with her even just a little bit, and three phrases preserve developing.

“Similar format.” “Equal content material.” “Equal publicity.”

To King, if a ladies’s match solely lasts 60 % so long as a males’s match, then they’ll obtain 60 % of the tv publicity as the boys, and spend 60 % of the time on the most important courts within the greatest tournaments.


Sue Barker with Serena Williams on the BBC in 2016 (Visionhaus/Corbis by way of Getty Photographs)

That math virtually ensures that ladies are much less well-known and appeal to much less cash. There are exceptions — Williams, Maria Sharapova, Naomi Osaka, Emma Raducanu, Coco Gauff — however the numbers are onerous to beat. World No 1 Swiatek has just lately bagged the massive sponsorships her standing deserves, however it’s taken time.

go-deeper

GO DEEPER

Iga Swiatek’s 100 weeks as world No 1: The streak, the slams, the bagels

Match administrators say having women and men play best-of-five is inconceivable from a scheduling perspective. Too many too-long matches. Too few courts. And the gamers don’t need it.

King and others have supplied an answer — best-of-three for everybody the primary week; best-of-five the second. There’s precedent — 50 years in the past on the French Open, the boys performed best-of-three for the primary two rounds. Bjorn Borg and Chris Evert gained their first Grand Slam titles, and also you would possibly do not forget that they did fairly effectively after that. The solar additionally continued to rise within the east.

The knock-on results of the present system on scheduling additionally just about assure extra battle and inequality — typically within the title of equality.


As night time follows day

Tennis gamers of a sure age who hung out round non-public golf equipment keep in mind occasions not very way back when males obtained first dibs on high-demand slots. Elina Svitolina mentioned that the boys (common gamers, not tour stars) nonetheless get the prime slots on the membership close to her house in Monte Carlo. Svitolina, prime 20 in her sport, previously a world No 3, needed to follow early morning or at nightfall.

Three years in the past, the French Open began holding an evening session with a featured singles match, which now begins at at 8:15 p.m. in the primary stadium, Court docket Philippe Chatrier. The event markets it because the match of the day. The U.S. and Australian Open schedule two matches of their night time periods, till the late rounds.


An empty night time session on Chatrier between Swiatek and Marta Kostyuk through the Covid-19 pandemic (Christophe Archambault/AFP by way of Getty Photographs)

Through the first three years, Roland Garros organizers scheduled a complete of 4 ladies’s matches at night time. Amelie Mauresmo, the previous ladies’s world No 1 and event director, initially justified the disparity by explaining that males’s tennis is extra interesting.

She tried to stroll that again but additionally defined that charging a premium for a session that may end in an hour is problematic — a knock-on impact of these unequal codecs that deprives prime ladies of a primetime viewers. Shifting a doubles match onto Chatrier after Iga Swiatek blows by an opponent 6-0, 6-1 isn’t seen as viable.

Swiatek made it clear final 12 months that she doesn’t care for enjoying at night time.

“There are gamers who just like the hype and the vitality, and possibly the situations, however for me it’s extra snug to simply have the conventional day/night time rhythm,” Swiatek mentioned. “I feel it’s extra wholesome for me to play day periods.”

That was arguably a self-inflicted wound, as had been Aryna Sabalenka’s current feedback about preferring males’s tennis. Nevertheless, this additionally illustrates one other unstated dynamic: ladies need to be additional cautious to not say something denigrating about their sport, lest they get criticized for not supporting fellow gamers, though a prime males’s participant saying one thing about their sport would doubtless not be thought-about an existential menace to its reputation.

It’s additionally uncommon that male gamers converse up. Andy Murray’s corrections of journalists’ “first…” stats are an exception: the three-time Grand Slam champion has routinely reminded journalists of their forgetting concerning the Williams sisters, most notably in 2017 when a reporter claimed Sam Querrey was the primary American to succeed in a significant semi-final since 2009. Canadian Denis Shapovalov wrote that “I feel some folks would possibly consider gender equality as mere political correctness” in an essay on the equal pay within the Gamers’ Tribune in 2023.

Moreover, it’s well-documented that prime males’s gamers have unstated preferences, which they usually talk to tournaments, and which tournaments — unspokenly — attempt to accommodate or nudge round. (They do that some for prime ladies, too). Rafael Nadal has mentioned clay-court tennis ought to by no means happen at night time, and it goes on.


The clock ticks previous 3:12 a.m as Garbine Muguruza defeats Jo Konta in Melbourne in 2019 (Peter Parks/AFP)

The opposite scheduling inequality additionally occurs at night time. No-one, man or girl, needs to play the second late match on the U.S. or Australian Open, with a ridiculous begin time.

The boys argue that if ladies are getting equal pay then they need to play the late match half the time. OK, however then a males’s match goes 5 units in 4 hours and the ladies begin at 11:30 pm in an empty stadium.

Generally scheduling advantages to males occur so quick nobody actually notices. The Madrid Open experimented with a brand new doubles format this 12 months, cramming the boys’s occasion principally into the second half of the second week.

That meant males who weren’t taking part in the singles obtained an additional week off. A highly-ranked man who misplaced early may discover a doubles accomplice, and with him an additional few days of free meals, lodging and follow. Good.

The ladies’s doubles? It began at the beginning. They didn’t have that choice. Organizers didn’t purposefully got down to deprive them; it simply occurred, and so they needed to take care of it.

This perspective extends to issues of inequality in planning and infrastructure off-court, too; anxiousness about change doesn’t simply prolong to the variety of units performed or matches scheduled.

Wimbledon solely relaxed its all-white costume code after considerations from gamers about menstruation final 12 months, the place the event beforehand required all clothes, together with underwear, to be white. On the time, Magda Linette instructed The Athletic that she has “had a few conditions at Wimbledon the place I felt very uncomfortable,” and welcomed the change, however it had required strident protest on the earlier 12 months’s event to make it occur.

High gamers have change into more and more open about discussing the affect of menstruation on type and efficiency, with quite a few feminine gamers speaking about PMS’ affect on their recreation — albeit whereas coding it as “lady issues” in press conferences. China’s Zheng Qinwen noticed cramps derail what would have been a well-known victory towards Iga Swiatek on the French Open in 2022, whereas Swiatek herself opened up about PMS contributing to her loss to Maria Sakkari of Greece on the similar event in 2021. “PMS actually hit me that day. I’m telling this for each younger lady who doesn’t know what’s occurring. Don’t fear, it’s regular. Everyone has it,” she mentioned.


Iga Swiatek and Zheng Qinwen on the internet in 2022 (Christophe Archambault/AFP by way of Getty Photographs)

Girls additionally endure speculations about normal accidents and “sickness” that males by no means need to undergo. Mixed with the game’s restricted provisions for gamers that wish to have kids — there isn’t a maternity pay, though gamers that take trip can retain their earlier rating to enter 12 tournaments over a three-year interval after giving start — these modifications and the elevated visibility, by gamers like Serena Williams, Naomi Osaka, Caroline Wozniacki, and Elina Svitolina, additionally reinforce that tennis’ ladies are taking part in in a construction constructed for males.

On the tour, it’s ever thus.

go-deeper

GO DEEPER

Wimbledon are enjoyable their all-white costume code to ease the stress of ladies’s durations


(Down) the underside line

Finally, the starkest measure is available in {dollars}, euros, kilos.

Ladies and men have acquired equal prize cash at all the Grand Slam tournaments since 2007. Amid some fanfare, final 12 months the WTA Tour introduced that the 500-level tournaments would comply with swimsuit, together with that 2027 plan for the 1000-level tournaments one rung under the Grand Slams. However not till 2033, in nearly a decade. On the time of the deal, Paula Badosa mentioned, “I don’t know why it’s not equal proper now.” Tour officers mentioned new gross sales and advertising and marketing efforts want time to provide extra income.

The WTA requires prime gamers to take part in each Masters 1000 event as a part of that deal. World No 4 Elena Rybakina, and Swiatek too, have beforehand expressed disappointment on the approach the WTA communicated these modifications. Final 12 months in Rome, Rybakina needed to carry her title gone midnight after rain delays. Organizers refused to maneuver the match to Sunday, due to the boys’s closing. Schedule, viewers, cash.


Floodlights mirror off the trophy after Rybakina’s win (Filippo Monteforte/AFP by way of Getty Photographs)

Match organizers have lengthy complained that equal prize cash is inconceivable when WTA media offers are price about 20 % of ATP equivalents. Consequently, the WTA contributes far lower than the ATP, and the prize cash displays that. That’s how two tournaments in Auckland, New Zealand organized primarily by the identical folks have the ladies taking part in for $262,000 and the boys for $660,000. 

Final 12 months, male gamers shared $336million in prize cash, together with the Grand Slams. Girls shared $170million.

Why are these media offers price a lot much less? Girls usually obtain second billing in blended tournaments, play much less fascinating schedules and don’t get the identical tv protection, as a result of their matches are shorter. After which the gamers get blamed for not with the ability to herald as a lot cash. That is the way it all coheres, into the last word self-fulfilling, blame-the-victim ouroboros that’s seemingly inconceivable to slay.


The coin toss earlier than Vondrousova towards Svitolina at Wimbledon (Adrian Dennis/AFP by way of Getty Photographs)

Final 12 months, Steve Simon, the chief government of the WTA Tour, struck a take care of CVC Capital Companions, a personal fairness agency, which purchased 20 % of a WTA industrial subsidiary for $150 million. The tour has launched a industrial ventures entity aimed toward enhancing gross sales and advertising and marketing efforts and enhance the visibility of tournaments, a part of which is enhancing streaming and on-line showings of matches, that are presently restricted compared to the ATP Tour.

“I’d like to go to the resort and open the TV and see a girl’s tennis match,” Jabeur mentioned halfway by the Madrid Open. “I haven’t seen as soon as one tennis match of girl. For me, it’s actually irritating to see that.”

There are extra enhancements. After a collection of disastrous selections on venues, scheduling, and promotion which got here to a nadir in Cancun final 12 months, ladies will compete for about the identical quantity of prize cash as the boys on the season-ending Tour Finals — the WTA’s premier occasion and a knock-out showcase for the highest eight gamers on the planet — for the following three years.

They’ll simply have to take action in Saudi Arabia, a rustic with an extended historical past of human rights abuses, that has jailed ladies who’ve run afoul of the nation’s leaders by pushing too onerous for equality.

Welcome to the brand new daybreak.

(High photographs: Hannah Peters; Julian Finney/Getty Photographs; Design: John Bradford)

You may also like