It all started back at the 2011 US Open, when rain delays, bubbly courts and messed-up schedules led some of the top male players to suggest a strike could happen in the future, if some of the calendar issues in Men's tennis would not be resolved. The issue came up again, in a different form, during the Australian Open 2012 players' council, where the lower ranked players started complaining about the distribution of Grand Slam profits and their own prize money. Sergiy Stakhovsky and Alex Bogomolov Jr. were particularly vocal about the matter, suggesting that the players might arrange a boycott of the Slams if the prize money demands are not met.
Up until that moment, the only problem seemed to be with the prize money for early round exits. The tennis world dived into the actual competition, and the next we heard about the matter was when the French Open announced a prize money increase for qualifiers and early round losers. Wimbledon quickly followed suit, announcing a similar increase of its own, supposedly after talks with the 'Big Four' of men's tennis. And all was well. Or was it?
The increases made by the Slams were equal for both men and women, seeing as the original prize money was equal (and has been, for some time now). In hindsight, it seems as though this grated on the nerves of some of the male players, who weren't happy with one of two things: (1) Women receiving the same pay check at the end of the tournament (2) Women receiving a pay-rise, while the men did all the complaining and "dirty work". Either way, the first bomb was dropped by Gilles Simon, who stated in an interview with French journalists that he thinks wages shouldn't be equal, as men spend twice the time on court as women do.
After losing his first round in three sets, Simon was asked to clarify his comments in a press conference. This time, his reasoning was completely different:
I never thought it was a good idea for women to play five sets. It was not my point of view. My point of view was just about ‑ it’s a difficult topic ‑ but it was just about the entertainment. If you just watch how it is working in every other, like, sport, but even for the singers, for everything, you’re just paid by the public directly.
My point was that I have the feeling that men’s tennis is actually more interesting than women’s tennis. As in any business or anything, you just have to be paid just about that. It’s not because we play five sets and they are playing three.Some of the top women were asked about those comments later on, dismissing them handily.
But then, other players (See: Stakhovsky) started backing up Simon, and the issue keeps on resurfacing about every two weeks. It has most recently exploded today, as Janko Tipsarevic took to twitter after Serena Williams' 6-0 6-0 win over Andrea Hlavackova in the fourth round of the 2012 US Open. The USO, incidentally, joined in and raised the prize money just like the other Slams did.
And here starts the problem - each player gives his own reasons for why men and women shouldn't be paid the same. We really shouldn't be having this discussion, but since it keeps on coming up, let's analyze the various claims the men seem to be making.
- Men's tennis is more entertaining/interesting/competitive/better-selling than women's tennis.
To start, this claim is subjective. Some tennis fans prefer men's tennis, some prefer the women's tour, some watch both. Even if today the ATP product is more known, what with the Federer-Nadal rivalry drawing attention for some years, this hasn't always been the case. The relative popularity of the tours changes with time. The separate tournaments get their own sponsors and different prize money, while the joint events are able to pay more because they're selling a joint product. The fact that more and more events become joint shows that this is the product that sells best.
Moreover, once you start measuring by popularity, you might need to conclude that Serena Williams should be paid a lot more for her first round in the US Open than most of the men's matches happening on the same day. And then, where do you stop?
- Men should be paid more, because they put in more effort/time/sets during the tournament.
First of all, how do you measure effort? We've seen enough women's 3-setters (Kuznetsova-Schiavone in AO 2011, anyone?) that lasted much longer than men's 5-setters; one of the best matches of Wimbledon was the Paszek-Wozniacki match that lasted 3 long sets and was a lot more captivating(/entertaining/interesting/competitive) than the Federer-Fognini match that preceded it (and also lasted 3 sets).
Tipsarevic's comments were sparked by Serena's 6-0 6-0 win, which apparently shouldn't get as much money as a parallel men's match. In the same way, we could say that Djokovic should be paid less for his 6-1 6-0 6-1 win over Lorenzi in the first round than Lepchenko's hard fought 6-3 3-6 7-5 win over Johansson, which lasted longer, had more games in it, and was far more competitive.
This logic never ends. You can't quantify effort or time - if you do, the difference shouldn't be between men and women, but between a quick match and a longer one, and the players will be paid based on hours on court, or on games won and lost. Somehow, I don't think that's what the male players are going for.
- Only the men are fighting for the raise, so only they should receive it.
Stakhovsky in particular seemed to have a problem with the concept of women benefiting from the Slam pay-rises. Meanwhile, it becomes clear that while the ATP council was planning a boycott of the 2013 Australian Open once again (unless the AO dishes out more money, of course), they didn't even try approaching the WTA council to try and cooperate with them on the subject. Which leaves one wondering what exactly they expected to happen.
The same players who complained about this struggle a year ago are seemingly forgetting it now, preferring to pick on the other tour instead of working together for a better solution for everyone.
N.B. If you claim you want to talk, you can do better than call those who try to discuss the issue "idiots". I've always liked Mr. Tipsarevic's game tennis-wise, but I've now lost all respect for him as a supposedly intelligent person.