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Battle of the sexes: Exploring the pay gap in tennis

NY Times News Service, DANIEL ISLAND, South Carolina

From left, Russia’s Maria Sharapova, Spain’s Rafael Nadal, the US’ Serena Williams and Switzerland’s Roger Federer pose for photographers before performing for children in an exhibition game in Malakoff, Paris, on May 23, 2013.

Photo: AFP

With renewed scrutiny on the disparate compensation paid to male and female athletes after a wage discrimination lawsuit filed by the US women’s soccer team, tennis has been cited as a leader in gender equality among major sports.

However, even in tennis, where men and women compete alongside one another at the same stadiums around the world, female players still earn significantly less than their male peers.

Grand Slam tournaments and the handful of other top combined events that pay men and women equally remain the exceptions.

Raymond Moore, the tournament director of the BNP Paribas Open in Indian Wells, California, an equal prize money event, resigned last month, after saying that WTA players were “lucky” to be able to “ride on the coattails of the men.”

His comments led to conversations at subsequent tournaments about the financial realities for men and women in tennis.

At the Volvo Car Open in Charleston, South Carolina, last week, several top players pointed out that the discussion of equal pay often distorts the distinct advantage male players still have in annual compensation.

“The facts were not put on the table; the fact is we do not earn equal prize money,” said Andrea Petkovic, a German player who is ranked 30th in the world. “It is not true. We only earn it in the Grand Slams and a few other tournaments, but men earn more than we do. I think it was discussed in the wrong manner, and that was very sad to see.”

Although men and women are compensated more comparably in tennis than in any other major sport, the annual prize money paid to the top 100 earners on the WTA and ATP Tours roughly matches the general pay gap in US workplaces, with female tennis players earning $US0.8 0on each US$1 men earn. The median pay gap between a woman in the top 100 and her opposite number on the men’s tour is US$120,624.

“I think that sometimes we just hope that those problems are in the past, and that we have come much further,” Petkovic said. “But it is good to be confronted with the thoughts of men that still think that way, and it is maybe nice for us to have discussions with them and to explain our point of view. I just wish that we would be a leader, that it would not matter about who is more popular, who is this or that. We, as a sport, could stand for something more than equal prize money — we would stand for community and sportsmanship.”

Billie Jean King, who pushed for equality as the women’s professional game developed, has remained an advocate for women’s issues in sports and many other areas.

“We have a chance to continue to lead,” King said of tennis. “To have equal prize money in the majors sends a message. It is not about the money, it is about the message.”

That message shines brightest under the sport’s biggest spotlights, at the four Grand Slam events, where men and women are paid equally. The US Open became the first Grand Slam event to offer equal pay, in 1973, and Wimbledon the last, in 2007.

However, at other large combined ATP-WTA tournaments, where the men and women are sold together under one ticket, the prize money disparity can be stark. The Western and Southern Open in Mason, Ohio, the biggest event in the weeks before the US Open, attracts dazzling constellations of top men’s and women’s stars each year to the fourth-largest tennis tournament in the US.

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