Sexism is an issue that angers me no matter what the context is – equal pay and rights, women slut shamed whilst men that ‘get around’ are celebrated, taboos around periods that shouldn’t exist. Sexism in tennis, though, is one I’ve thought about a lot in recent years but I’ve never been able to properly articulate all of the issues with it and, while I still can’t, it’s gotten to a point where I can’t stay quiet about it. Tbh, I find it hard to articulate just what is so wrong and ridiculous about sexism in general because the idea of it just baffles me – how is equality not just a given thing, especially in this day and age?
Pls bear with me here if you don’t watch tennis whatsoever and don’t know who or what I’m talking about here – whilst it’s in a niche context it’s a big issue and I sadly cannot address every context in which sexism occurs (way too many!) but this is so super important to talk about and get informed, and a good starting point for future posts fighting for equality in other contexts.
You may have seen me have this mini rant about sexism in tennis on Twitter last month, during Wimbledon. I’ve thought about sexism in tennis a lot recently because I get more and more into it every year, and along with enjoying watching matches and learning more about the players I also learn more about the inequalities and the casual sexism still hanging about in tennis for no apparent reason. I’ve also been thinking about it a lot because, when compared with other sports, tennis is one that women are more recognised and celebrated in than, say, football or basketball. Maybe this is different in other situations or countries, but things such as Grand Slams and various other tournaments allowing men and women to compete in the same tournament (albeit not with each other), and players such as Serena Williams becoming worldwide sporting icons have allowed tennis to become a sport in which women can be as equally associated with it as men, whereas I find a sport like football is more associated with men. If you think about it, someone on the street is more likely to be able to name a few female tennis players than a few female football players, at least that’s what I’ve come across. Sure, in tennis you play as an individual and not in a team so it’s easier to know who that one player is but you get my point. Tennis is an empowering sport for women, perhaps more so than most others unfortunately.
So why is it that there are still inequalities in tennis? That women cannot be seen as players – only as female players. The prime example being the one that went viral during Wimbledon recently, with a reporter calling Sam Querrey the first American player to reach a Slam semi final since 2009 which is p ridiculous when, as well as the Williams sisters, there have been Madison Keys and Coco Vandewegh. They are tennis players too, despite being women. This sort of ‘casual’ sexism is one of the worst kinds, people don’t even notice that they are essentially oppressing women. Sascha Zverev recently claimed that his dad was the only parent coach to coach two of his children to the top 25, when Serena and Venus Williams’ dad was just inducted into the Tennis Hall of Fame for coaching them both to the world number one top spot. And Sascha is young, only twenty, part of the millennial generation who are and should be fighting for equality, yet makes this sort of mistake and forgets that women’s tennis is also tennis.
Before I start, let’s go over one of the prime examples and a little bit of tennis jargon you’re gonna need to understand this post. The ATP and the WTA. If you don’t follow tennis, aka nearly all of my readers, the ATP is the organisation responsible for hosting the men’s tennis tour and essentially looking after male players, and the WTA is the organisation responsible for the same duties for the women’s tour and female players. ATP stands for Association of Tennis Professionals, and WTA stands for Women’s Tennis Association.
Why the hell are we addressing male tennis players as professionals and their female counterparts as women? Calling them women is fine, just call the men ‘men’ too. This sounds like a reach but it’s subtle sexism at its finest. In a sport that is empowering for women.
Women still get paid less, though not in every tournament. I’ve only seen Wimbledon and the upcoming US Open winners prize amounts for 2017 and the men and women singles winners, as well as men’s doubles and women’s doubles winners, receive the same amount. (Also, sidebar, why are doubles paid way less than singles when they also gotta split the money in half?).
The recent Citi Open tournament in Washington had the most disgusting pay gap between the men and women. The Citi Open is both an ATP and WTA tournament, open to both genders, although in terms of the points awarded to players as they progress through the tournament, it has a higher points value for the man than the women. In these situations, pay is often slightly higher for the tour in which it is worth more points which is a given, as the higher the value of the tournament, the higher ranked players will play it, drawing more money / views / sales for the tournament. Somewhere that attracts, say, half of the men’s top 20 players but only ten out of the women’s top 50 players will pay the men more, but not to the extent at which Washington went to.
In tournaments where the women earn more points for the men, the women will make a few thousand more per round, maybe starting around $500 more in earlier stages and getting to $50,000 more as the rounds get further into semis and finals.
In Washington, a man who lost in the first round was still paid $6,600 compared to $2,220 for a woman in the same position. To put this into context, a woman who reached the quarter finals was still paid $400 less than a man who lost in the first round and therefore didn’t even win a match in the whole tournament, only having played that one match. The male singles player who won the whole tournament made $355,460 compared to $43,000 for the female singles player who won the whole tournament. That’s nearly 10x more. That’s not ok.
Last year there was an incident in which the Indian Wells CEO, Raymond Moore, made some hella dumb comments claiming that the WTA ‘ride on the coattails’ of the ATP’s male players. He believed that female players should ‘thank God’ for Federer and Nadal – two male players he believes ‘carry the sport’. How stupid a claim is that? Thankfully, Moore is no longer the tournament’s director and the position this year has been filled by Tommy Haas, an absolute babe of a player, who will definitely take the tournament and the mentality of it to a much better place.
These comments were followed on with the biggest trash to ever come out of Novak Djokovic’s mouth. Let me tell you, I love Djokovic. I only started watching tennis during Wimbledon 2013 and I was literally only watching Wimbledon then, and every year since 2014 have started watching more and more tournaments. The timing of my interest in tennis means that I was late to the Federer is the GOAT party and, up until this year, genuinely thought Novak was the best male this sport had. Imagine thinking so highly of someone, respecting their opinion in the field of tennis, and then finding out they think women somewhat deserve to be paid less than men in tournaments. He actually thinks women’s matches draw less of a crowd than men’s matches. Sorry hunni, but if Serena Williams is playing a qualifier and Novak Djokovic is playing a qualifier, you best believe I’m watching the TV channel or sitting on the court showing Queen Serena.
And sure, if current ATP world no. 2 Nadal is playing current world no. 17 Sock whilst current WTA world no. 3 Kerber is playing a world no. 90, the men’s match in this case is likely to draw more of a viewership. The same as, if current WTA world no. 1 Pliskova is playing current world no. 22 Konjuh whilst current ATP world no. 9 Nishikori is playing a lucky loser, the women’s match would draw a bigger crowd. Djokovic’s comments were extremely stupid considering how broad and wild his claim was. It depends on what a certain member of the crowd at a tournament or viewer at home watching TV prefers – ATP matches, WTA matches, a certain female player over a certain male player on at the same time or vice versa.
Another thing that really bothers me in relation to inequality within tennis is the accessibility of the WTA and their matches compared to the ATP and their matches, and this is the reason I didn’t get into the women’s side of the sport sooner. In the UK, ATP tournaments are shown on Sky Sports and Eurosport, channels you can’t get for free but channels that, as long as you have Sky, you will have on your TV for no extra charge (as far as I know?). In comparison, WTA tournaments are shown on BT Sport, so even if you have a Sky subscription with sport included, you need to pay at least £22 extra on top of your monthly subscription to watch BT Sport, and in turn women’s matches that aren’t at slams. Even if a tournament, like Miami, allows both male and female players to enter, the men’s matches will be on Sky and the women’s matches on BT. The only exception is when it rolls around to British tennis season with the Aegon tournaments pre-Wimbledon.
There is has also been no WTA streaming service since the end of last year, while there is and always has been for the ATP, although the WTA have just launched their own one and it will already be up and running this post goes live. The ATP has TennisTV, a service which works like Netflix but for live men’s matches, and up until the start of the year women’s matches were also streamed here. Seven months have gone by where the tennis world hasn’t strived to find even a temporary place for women’s matches to be streamed. I think it’s a positive that the WTA are obtaining their own service to take control of the streaming of their own matches though, so we’re making progress on the matter of the accessibility of women’s tennis!
Little side note to this one though, between writing and posting this, it’s been announced that Amazon has obtained the rights to broadcast the ATP Tour from 2019 onwards, replacing Sky. Theoretically, this will make the WTA Tour more accessible – men’s tennis will become solely dependent on subscribing to a streaming service on a mobile device, whether it be Amazon Prime or TennisTV, whereas WTA matches can be shown on an actual TV channel, but of course at a hefty extra charge on top of an existing charge.
Speaking on both of these cost-wise, perhaps the WTA is exclusive to BT Sport so they can make more money as an organisation. The WTA streaming service will be cheaper than the existing now solely ATP TennisTV service, which is good in terms of making it more appealing to subscribe to, therefore bringing a bigger viewership to women’s matches, but can be seen as a reflection of the lesser value placed on women’s matches. I’m a glass half full kinda person (some people who know of 13/14/15 year old me will find this hard to believe) and think that the WTA are controlling it all so at least the pricing decision wasn’t made by a male dominated media outlet, otherwise you know exactly why they’d be charging less. Close minded people can easily take this as a ‘women’s tennis is worth less’ assumption when it appears to be the WTA making women’s tennis more appealing which is a positive.
Court scheduling is another one. Nope, I’m not done yet, this is unfortunately really how many issues there are. This was a v talked about issue at Wimbledon this year, it always is but this year more so with more and more players, commentators, hosts, pundits, journalists and viewers speaking out about it more than ever before which is a step in the right direction, yay!
Wimbledon’s main court, their biggest one that the best matches of the day are scheduled for, is Centre Court. The second biggest is Court 1, then the other big show courts are 2 and 3 (and maybe 4? some people count it some don’t idrk). But Centre and 1 are where the best of the best matches are meant to be played, a given. Centre Court has two men’s matches and one women’s match a day. They start play on the court at 1PM while every other court (apart from 1) starts at 11:30AM. Some seriously mediocre men’s matches were put on Centre this year with some insane women’s matches forced on the smaller courts. Surely if they start playing at 11:30AM like everywhere else, they have time for another women’s match to even it out at 2:2.
On Manic Monday, the first day of the second week of the tournament that is often hailed the best day because all the big players usually make it to the second week and there is good tennis everywhere, a match between Kerber (world no. 1 at the time) and Muguruza (a French Open winner who later went on to win the whole tournament) was played on Court 2. Venus Williams, playing her 20th (!!) Wimbledon this year had to wait a whole week to even play on Centre while Murray and Federer played every single one of their matches until they got knocked out and won the tournament respectively on Centre Court. Current reigning French Open winner Jelena Ostapenko only got to see Centre Court once when she played Venus in the QF.
After rain delays at every mixed gender tournament, it’s almost always the women’s matches that will be moved from the bigger court it was meant to be played on to a smaller court when matches are postponed and rescheduled for later or the following day. And, of course, there’s the classic debate around men playing best-of-five set matches at slams whilst women play best-of-three. This was started decades ago around the idea that women are not as physically strong as men, can’t handle the length of a best-of-five set match. Look at Konta and Vekic’s insaaaaaaaaanely amazing second round match at Wimbledon a few weeks back, those ladies could’ve gone for 10 sets if they really had to. Women are also allowed to have on-court coaching during a WTA tour match, but men do not get the same at an ATP tour match. Tennis is basically giving women a weak stereotype, perpetuating the idea that they need less of a physical challenge and need the help of a coach because they can’t win or play a match on their own. I’m here for no more on court coaching and best-of-fives for women at Slams.
As well as Slams, the recent Washington tournament mentioned earlier had the worst court scheduling. One women’s match would be played on the main Stadium court per day, at the hottest time of day, the first match on court much earlier than all the others when barely any spectators had arrived yet. One women’s match, and at least three or four men’s matches in a row later on in the day. Washington really annoyed me, and I couldn’t even watch the WTA side of it to make it better because we don’t have BT Sport.
The last point I want to address is how it seems as though the tennis world is pushing the next generation of male players more than female players in general. The dubbed ‘#NextGenATP’ consisting of potential future no. 1s and Slam winners in the men’s ATP circuit are getting a big push in the tennis world at the moment, and the women are getting a bit left behind amongst it all. Where’s the #NextGenWTA campaign? Don’t get me wrong, I bloody love lil Sascha Zverev of Next Gen fame but he seems more shouted about than current WTA no. 1 Karolina Pliskova.
And, moving on briefly to sexism in the rest of the world, because it’s not just tennis that is sexist and while I can’t write about everything in one go I can set myself up to address more of these problems in the future. A recent issue has been the BBC pay gap which just fucking disgusted me to see. The highest earning male earns around £2.2million a year whilst the highest earning female earns around £450/£499k a year. Looool you what?
Radio 1 has four big daytime weekday slots, starting with Nick Grimshaw, followed by Clara Amfo, followed by Scott Mills and finished off with Greg James. All four essentially do the same job but Grimmy earns £350/£399k a year, Scott £250/£299k a year, Greg £150/£199k a year and Clara earns so much less than her male counterparts that her salary didn’t appear on the list because it’s something under £150k. Clara’s show includes the Live Lounge, one of Radio 1’s biggest (if not the biggest) successes that draws in a big audience not only to the station but to their social media pages. To put this in context, John McEnroe makes £150/£199k a year from the BBC for working with them for 13 days out of the year when Wimbledon is on, during which he actually also works for ESPN so only half works for the BBC. And he makes more than a radio presenter who spends five days a week almost every week of the year working for the BBC. Lol nah.
The point I’m trying to make here, I guess, is that if such big companies and sports can get away with inequality, everyone else will think they can too. Tennis is a big success point for women in sport yet is still filled with casual sexism and dismissal of female players as actual players, and outright obvious better treatment of men. The BBC is such a renowned company yet has a bloody HUGE gender pay gap. A school isn’t even going to bother creating a female team for a sport alongside an existing male team if tennis is this way, the same as a small media firm won’t bother paying their male and female employees on the same level the same wage if they see the BBC isn’t either.
I really hope I haven’t totally lost you all with this super long post and all the tennis jargon. I am the first person who hates when someone male-bashes and thinks women should be way superior. I mean, yes, we can do anything you can do but in heels, but feminism is just about equality and who on Earth wouldn’t want that? I don’t wanna graduate university and go off to get a job just to find out that, whilst I’m struggling to pay my rent, my male colleague has a decent disposable income.
If you want to do some further reading on similar topics, Vogue recently did an amazing article about female athletes and why Queen Serena Williams can’t be the sole carrier of women’s sport, and speaking of Serena she wrote a powerful speech on inequality and equal pay for black women that is well worth the read. And the WTA Wikipedia has a great history into the inequalities of women’s pay in tennis and why the WTA had to be founded in the first place. Oh and thanks to tennis twitter for always bringing the stats and facts that help me become further aware of these issues so I can inform all of you about them.
Gawwddd I rly hope I haven’t lost you all in this post, I’ve just been itching to talk about it somewhere, somehow in depth because it’s a huge issue and the only way we can eradicate it is by being aware of it in the first place. I hope I don’t come off like some whiney bitch who is trying to reach and find issues that aren’t there because they are there!
Also, this is pretty obvious but I am nothing to do with tennis, this is written from the perspective of a fan of the sport who has seen these problems occurring and, while I have done my research for this post I am not extensively knowledgable about every male tennis vs. female tennis equality and inequality. Most of us aren’t tennis experts and if this is the way tennis appears to those with little / less knowledge compared to the experts then something needs to change.
And, to end on a much more positive note, this subtle sexism is being spotted more and more these days and it’s incredible! From the viral video of Andy Murray correcting the reporter I mentioned earlier, to Slams paying women equally, to a second female ATP tournament direction in Washington, to Vogue questioning why we don’t hear more about women’s sport, to the many BBC employees fighting against this pay gap now they are aware of it. We’ve already achieved so much in recent history in terms of equality and it can only get better.
Thanks for actually sticking through this post, y’all are the best.