Advantage WTA: Why women’s tennis really should thank Federer and Nadal

Hugh Clarke Roar Pro

By Hugh Clarke, Hugh Clarke is a Roar Pro

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    Roger Federer continued his comeback by winning Indian Wells. (Georgios Kefalas/Keystone via AP)

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    At the risk of ruffling many a feather, I can’t help but put forth my opinion as honestly and logically as I possibly can.

    I’m a die-hard tennis fan; have been since I could barely see over the net as a skinny five-year-old. I’ve played and coached the game at a US collegiate division one and professional level. I coach male and female players alike, and enjoy working with both.

    Over the years I’ve admired and followed both female and male players, and while I mainly watch men’s tennis now, it’s never consciously been because of gender.

    I was a huge fan of Justine Henin in her day, as she possessed one of the most beautiful backhands tennis ever saw and played a stylish all-court game that was thrilling to watch.


    I would watch her over many men’s matches purely because she was more entertaining, which is why anyone watches anything.

    At the tail-end of the Indian Wells event this weekend, tournament director Raymond Moore made some remarks that were made in a sexist and moronic way, make no mistake, but that were ultimately conveying a message that I believe – and I’m not sorry to say so.

    In essence, Raymond Moore said that the WTA should thank Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal for carrying women’s tennis due to their individual star power. What he should have said, is that every player, male or female, should thank Federer and Nadal, given their status as global sporting icons.

    In the wake of Moore’s comments, and those of Novak Djokovic (who said men should be paid more because they get more spectators), men’s tennis has been vilified in the media as undoing much of what women have fought for since the Billie Jean King days.

    After losing the final to Victoria Azarenka, Serena Williams hit back at Moore’s claims saying, “If I could tell you every day how many people say they don’t watch tennis unless they’re watching myself or my sister, I couldn’t even bring up that number.”

    Don’t get me wrong, Serena is an incredible ambassador for tennis and commands huge numbers, especially from the US, but viewer statistics dispel the claim that she draws audiences close to that of Federer or Nadal.

    This BBC article clearly shows that last year’s men’s tennis events drew over twice as many viewers as the women’s.

    She also went on to point out that last year’s women’s US Open final sold out before the men’s.

    “I’m sorry, did Roger play in that final? Or Rafa, or any man, play in that final that was sold out before the men’s final? I think not.”

    Very true, Serena, but it’s quite obvious last year’s anomaly was due to the fact that many expected you to win in New York and complete the calendar Grand Slam (winning all four in one year) on home soil to make history.

    Would it have sold out so quickly if people had known that two relatively unknown Italians in Flavia Pennetta and Roberta Vinci would slug out the final?

    My careful assessment says no.

    Google’s definition of gender equality reads; “the state in which access to rights or opportunities is unaffected by gender.”

    To me, ‘unaffected’ is the word that needs to be applied to each case to pass the mark.

    While I absolutely agree that gender inequality occurs in much of society and still far too many workplaces, women’s tennis simply is not one of them.

    In fact, given the statistics, gender inequality is happening in tennis – to the men. They are pulling in twice as many viewers, playing longer matches, and getting paid the same as women.

    For the last decade women have had equal pay at all the grand slams and joint-venture tournaments despite statistics showing fewer spectators and viewers for WTA events.

    There are some harsh truths that people don’t like to accept or discuss out of political correctness that are important factors when discussing this issue.

    Given that sport is entertainment, the ultimate factor when delivering a package like the ATP, or the WTA, is how to make money. It’s as simple as that.

    It doesn’t take a brain-surgeon to realise why Maria Sharapova makes more money from endorsements than arguably the greatest female player of all time, in Serena Williams, despite far less success on the court.

    The harsh reality is that Sharapova’s appearance has won her many lucrative sponsorship deals that are simply a reflection of a societal demand in a free market economy.

    For the last ten years the men’s game has delivered more compelling rivalries and delivered a product that is faster, more diverse and more athletic purely because of their bodies. Women have different bodies, and as such, produce a different product of tennis.

    I’m not saying one is better than the other; as I would much rather watch Justine Henin or Carla Saurez Navarro than John Isner and Milos Raonic. But the bottom line is the top men have delivered a product that in recent times has been more popular than the WTA.

    There’s nothing sexist or misogynistic in simply stating that. Men’s tennis, right now, sells better than women’s.


    Female models get paid far more than male models, a reflection of the women’s fashion industry being bigger than the men’s.


    If women’s tennis had compelling rivalries and was drawing consistently bigger crowds than the men’s, I would honestly advocate that women be paid more.

    It’s as simple as that and it should be that way if you want to truly represent gender equality.

    Gender equality is not about equal prize money no matter what; it’s about giving both the same rights and opportunities.

    Both men and women have the opportunity to play the game and the respective bodies have an opportunity to deliver the game how they want. That the men’s package is currently selling better, does not make them villains of gender equality for demanding their share.

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    The Crowd Says (9)

    • March 24th 2016 @ 10:45am
      James said | March 24th 2016 @ 10:45am | ! Report

      I would like to see the good ole days of people like Steffi Graf vs Monica Seles vs Martina Hingis. Back when there was some personality in the women’s game

      Nowadays it sort of feels like Serena Williams vs “Current Russian/Serbian/Czech player with a long name”. It could be due to the level of flux at the top – I have always felt the women’s games are more random because you generally couldn’t guarantee who would win before the match started (except Serena…). That made it harder to develop favourites, and as such the games felt a bit less interesting. A weird comment i know, that it is more boring because we DON’T know who will win…

      Probably doesn’t help when some of the matches go to 3 set nailbiters but then some are complete routs by Serena

    • March 24th 2016 @ 10:47am
      BPLOL said | March 24th 2016 @ 10:47am | ! Report

      This is on point.

      Should men and women be paid the same in tennis is a hot topic full of debate. Even if you do not take into consideration the viewer statistics or the quality of the product, which i feel do need to be taken into considerations, but for this post I will disregard the simple fact is in Grandslam events men play best of 5 sets and women best or 3 sets. Until the women play best of 5 sets they should be paid a degree less (as men dont always play 5 sets meaning exactly 60% is not a fair way of splitting it) of what the men get paid.

      In any company if you worked 3/5 of the time (and producing a less valuable product) while working 3/5 of the time you would be getting paid less than those putting in more time and producing a superior product.

      • March 24th 2016 @ 2:43pm
        Linus Fernandes said | March 24th 2016 @ 2:43pm | ! Report

        “In any company, if you worked 3/5 of the time….”
        Women claim that in the real world, note not tennis, they have to work harder than the men for equal or less pay. This is also proven by numerous research studies. So , if this is true, should they be paid more than men? Note again, there’s no WTA to push their case.

    • March 24th 2016 @ 3:53pm
      Linus Fernandes said | March 24th 2016 @ 3:53pm | ! Report

      Sportpersons, nowadays, consider themselves not mere athletes, but entertainers. Evidently, in that case, the bigger box-office draw is paid more.

    • March 24th 2016 @ 5:48pm
      Liam O'Neill said | March 24th 2016 @ 5:48pm | ! Report

      Why not reduce the men’s game to best of three sets and put the men’s final on the day before the women’s final

    • March 24th 2016 @ 9:28pm
      Josh said | March 24th 2016 @ 9:28pm | ! Report

      Pure logic. So glad to hear. Well written. Depends on the draw that determines what game I choose to watch. Skill, personality, competitiveness. Men or women. Pay the big bucks to who ever pulls the numbers. Simple.

    • March 29th 2016 @ 5:02am
      Jim said | March 29th 2016 @ 5:02am | ! Report

      Oh geez. Bigger box office means bigger pay in entertainment? Take a look at Hollywood and a Bradley Cooper / Jennifer Lawrence movie. Who is the bigger draw? You can’t say but she gets paid less. And yes Sharapova’s appearance is a major reason for her endorsements. She’s white. There is so much prejudice of all types everywhere I would have thought you guys (yes it is guys ranting on this site) would be proud to be associated with one area that is less infected with it.

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        March 30th 2016 @ 12:42pm
        Hugh Clarke said | March 30th 2016 @ 12:42pm | ! Report

        As i pointed out Jim, I’m not arguing that women are not marginalised in other areas of society, it’s quite clear by the numbers that they are. In tennis, this is not the case – the figures clearly show who people are mainly turning up to watch – that Novak came out and said the men should fight for what they deserve, and get vilified for it, is ridiculous.

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