Equal pay in tennis a line call

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Novak Djokovic and Rafael Nadal unable to stand after the 2012 Australian Open final (image: Getty).

Two foes stand side-by-side; both slumped in an involuntary and synchronised slouch, their bodies finally submitting to the inevitable fatigue that ensues from competing in a five hour and 53 minute slugfest.

Novak Djokovic had beaten Rafael Nadal in the 2012 Australian Open final, the longest – and arguably greatest – Grand Slam final in tennis history.

While a mere day earlier Victoria Azarenka swept Maria Sharapova off Rod Laver Arena, barely raising a sweat to claim the women’s crown in one hour and 22 minutes.

Both champions pocketed a tantalising $2,430,000 (AUD) winners paycheck.

The gulf in both quality and quantity (length) of the two finals, left many paying spectators of the women’s final with a bitter taste in their mouth; and reignited a perpetual discussion amongst the sporting world.

The debate amounting simply to this: whether or not men and women tennis players deserve equal prize money.

This is hardly a new topic of debate, yet to this day gender equality remains a prevalent topic within popular discourse.

In 1973, the US Open became the first Grand Slam to bring parity to men and women player payments, a feat that would not be matched at a major tennis tournament until the 2001 Australian Open.

In-fact almost quarter of a century would pass before all four Grand Slam tournaments followed the US Open’s lead (Rolland Garros and Wimbledon conformed in 2007).

Reflecting on the US Open’s move to equality many people may be forgiven for using words such as revolutionary, enlightened, and egalitarian.

However in reality the move to parity was virtual blackmail, after US tennis legend Billie Jean King threatened to boycott the 1973 Open if tournament officials didn’t rectify the issue.

Exactly 30 years on and in the eyes of many a problem still persists.

Essentially the argument of those who oppose equal winnings boils down to two factors: entertainment value and time spent on court.

Firstly the point of higher standard of play is unsubstantiated, as an individual’s degree of entertainment will invariably differ from person to person. Notwithstanding this was a sentiment shared by ATP player Gilles Simon despite the concepts shaky footing.

The Frenchman earlier this year insisting tennis aesthetics should impact upon the amount of decimals found on player paychecks: “Tennis is the only sport today where we have parity even though men’s tennis remains more attractive than women’s at this time”, he said.

When asked for a response to these controversial comments, some of Simon’s female colleagues were less than impressed.

Serena Williams – who secured her 16th Grand Slam at Roland Garros this week – in 2012 stated: “I deserve to get paid the same amount. I don’t deserve less ‘cos (sic) I have boobs and they don’t”.

Williams also remarked that those who held the position were outdated, urging them to “Get with the program”.

However comparative data, in regards to time played, compiled from Rolland Garros over the past fortnight, less than flatters equal pay advocates.

The joint prize pool for semi finalists of both the men’s and women’s draw was listed at €3,000,000.

The four male semi-finalists spent combined total 53 hours and 50 minutes (3230 minutes), juxtaposed to 35 hours and 15 minutes (2115 minutes) for the final four females.

Henceforth women stood to receive the same paycheck as their male counterparts, despite having spent less than two-thirds the time on court.

To put this in perspective Nadal, Ferrer, Djokovic and Tsonga would on average collect €929.80 a minute; Williams, Sharapova, Errani and Azarenka a mean of €1,418.44.

Therefore from this figure it can be said that women stood to gain an extra €489 per minute played.

It’s fair to say these statistics would leave numerous men on the ATP tour collectively scratching their heads.

So is this an isolated instance of inequality? Hardly. Indeed all these statistics were mirrored at the 2013 Australian Open.

What options is there to counteract the imbalance? Well short of women accepting a voluntary pay cut (about as likely as counting to infinity), very few are pragmatic solutions.

Many believe women should match the men, playing a best of five set structure in order to legitimise there share of the profit.

A move that would ultimately see many matches turn into grueling games of ‘survival of the fittest’ – something rarely cited in contemporary best of three sets women’s tennis.

However implementing this idea into Grand Slams would be a logistical nightmare for organisers of the four slams, as the tournament would almost certainly exceed the two-week time period. A foreseeable eventuality, due to the inflated time the women’s draw would spend on court.

Another proposal has been to desegregate the sport. But then again this move could potentially create more problems than it solves.

Perhaps, perversely enough, the issue serves as a glowing endorsement of the game. As while the tennis world bickers over balanced wages for men and women, other major competitions still ponder how to merely begin to place women on their own sports respective map.

Callum Godde is a second-year Journalism (sport) student at La Trobe University. Follow him on twitter @Calgodde.

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