Equal pay in tennis

January 30, 2007

I’ve enjoyed watching a heaps of good tennis over the last month or so. Firstly the two NZ tournaments (some of the last decent free-to-air sport shown on TVNZ). And, in the last two weeks, the Australian Open in Melbourne.

What makes the grand slams special are the long five set matches. Like this years quarter-final between Tommy Haas and Nikolay Davydenko. The game lasted nearly 3½ hours and in the end was as much about mental strength as anything else. The final set alone took over 60 minutes.

Compare this to Kim Clijsters first-round match, which she won 6-0 6-0 in only 44 minutes, playing only 62 points.

Every September in the U.K. there is a rark-up in the press when they announce the prize money for Wimbledon, which is the last of the four grand slam tournaments to pay different amounts to men and women (or “ladies” as they are correctly called in SW19).

In 2007 it’s indefensible to not offer equal pay for equal work. But, is it equal work? Here’s what some numbers from this years Australian Open show:

Men’s semi-finalists

Player Sets Games Points Time on court
Roger Federer 18 171 1061 10h 59m
Fernando Gonzalez 22 216 1286 14h 13m
Andy Roddick 22 215 1250 13h 45m
Tommy Haas 21 194 1189 12h 57m
TOTAL 83 796 4786 51h 54m

Women’s semi-finalists

Player Sets Games Points Time on court
Serena Williams 16 150 1019 11h 24m
Maria Sharapova 15 146 940 11h 13m
Nicole Vaidisova 13 122 795 7h 58m
Kim Clijsters 13 110 709 7h 28m
TOTAL 57 528 3463 38h 03m

So, on the men’s side of the draw the four semi-finalists played half-again as many sets/games as their female equivalents and were on court for an additional 13½ hours. It would seem to be difficult to argue that is equal work.

And, keep in mind that Roger Federer absolutely dominated and won the tournament without dropping a set (actually spending less time on court than the women’s champion Serena Williams). Unusually both men’s semi-finals were three set matches.

In this article from the BBC, Tim Philips (the chairman of the All England Club) points at the physical demands of playing five sets as justification for the difference. He also highlights that, in 2005, the top 10 women earned more in total from playing at Wimbledon than the top 10 men, in part because they are also able to play in doubles and mixed doubles, where the top men tend not to.


I’ve gotta ask: why don’t the women play five sets too?

Or, is there something I’m missing?