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NCFM Member Roger Garland, Equal Pay but Not Equal Play in Professional Tennis

February 21, 2024


At certain times of the year, when one of the four major tennis tournaments is played, I have written about the unequal and unfair situation that continues to exist in professional tennis. Let me explain….

For those of you that play tennis, are fans of tennis, or follow sports, you may already be aware of this.  Last month, the Australian Open was played, one of the four major championship tournaments played each year (French Open, Wimbledon, US Open).

In each of these tournaments women play the best-of-three sets while the men play the best-of-five. Men play longer and risk more injury yet both are awarded equal prize money.

Women should have to play the same five set format to be crowned Champion and receive equal prize money. Instead, they play a three-set format, the same as the Juniors (eight to 17-year-olds).

Professional men’s matches typically last three to five hours, while women’s matches typically last 1.5 to two hours. The longest reported professional men’s match was at Wimbledon in 2010. John Isner and Nicolas Mahut battled for 11 hours and five minutes! By contrast, the longest reported professional women’s match between Virginie Buisson and Noelle van Lottum at the 1984 French Open lasted a little over four hours.

Moreover, in the three-set format, there are no comebacks. For example, in the most recent Australian Open men’s final, one player won the first two sets. Needing to win a third set, they played on, and the other player came back and won three straight sets to win the tournament.

However, in the women’s game, the match would have been over after the second set, so comebacks do not exist for the women, which is not fair to women.

What if the situation was reversed – if men played three sets and women played five. There would be hell to pay, protests, media madness and even riots.

From 1891 to 1901, women played five sets, even in the US National Championships. That year, 1901, the all-male United States National Lawn Tennis Association Council changed the rule believing five-sets were too strenuous for women. But professional women tennis players are highly conditioned athletes. Women run marathons, cross country ski and even run the Alaska Iditarod. They can easily play five sets.

It amazes me women pros are not outraged about playing the same sets as eight to 17-year-olds, as if they are incapable of playing at the same level as men, which they obviously can do. Year after year, few if any in tennis or the media challenge such glaring nonsense.

Interestingly, Venus Williams advocated equal status with men’s tennis, including the number of matches. Pro players Andy Murray and Stefanos Tsitsipas advocated women playing the best-of-five sets. Billie Jean King strongly fought for equal pay, high profile tournaments for women, and equal opportunity but I am unaware of her ever advocating specifically for men and women to play the same number of sets. In the internationally celebrated Battle of the Sexes match with professional player Bobby Riggs, Billie Jean won every set – all three of them.

As a tennis player, I have always been outraged at this obvious, inexplicable and wholly inequitable state of affairs. I have asked sports writers, radio and television talk shows, and many tennis players if they would help right this wrong. None were willing to touch it, including Tennis Magazine. I have no clue as to why the world of sports continues to allow it.

Since the women are only playing the best-of-three sets, I don’t know how anyone can take them seriously, including me. To reiterate, under the present unequal format, women pro players do not deserve equal prize money with male pro players. Women tournaments should be renamed the Women’s Tennis Exhibition Games or the Women’s Junior Tennis League…

Roger Garland

national coalition for men

NCFM Member Roger Garland, Equal Pay but Not Equal Play in Professional Tennis

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4 Responses to NCFM Member Roger Garland, Equal Pay but Not Equal Play in Professional Tennis

  1. Shaqfu on February 22, 2024 at 9:21 AM

    Also, it is ridiculous for fake media to label tennis $$ as “equal pay” when, based on hours worked, women make 2-2.5 times the money that men make. Many male players (including Djokovic, who has no problem speaking his mind) have attempted to raise awareness but, as expected, they are immediately vilified.

    • Roger Garland on March 22, 2024 at 5:30 PM

      I should have made that point in my article.

      No one wants to take on this issue because of what you say happens afterwards.

  2. Shaqfu on February 22, 2024 at 9:04 AM

    Couldn’t agree more. I wrote essays on this topic back in undergrad back in the 90s and even then ones ostracized.

    Although, while I don’t have the time to research the stats to back up my claim, I find it hard to believe the average women’s match is 1.5 to 2 hours…more like 45-60 minutes).

    Also, due to men playing best of five setters in slams (and racking up serious hours on court during a tournament), they can’t play in doubles, as well, where many top women compete for extra $$, which is another major issue.

    But, since we’re talking about fairness, it should be noted that best of 5 setters for men currently only exist in the slams.

    I refuse to watch women’s tennis since it is inferior and really shouldn’t be considered pro-level as it is no different than watching junior level boys, which I’d rather watch since they will continue to develop.

    I know it won’t happen but it would be great to see the slams split so I don’t have to deal with seeing men and women sharing the courts during slam (and many 1000 level tourneys). Pro golf doesn’t share majors between men and women (there’s another sport with built-in handicaps for women).

    Otherwise, great article and topic.

    • Roger Garland on March 22, 2024 at 5:19 PM

      What your saying is true that most of their matches only go 45-60 minutes and I really wanted to write that. 1.5-2 hours refers to the longest that their matches can go.

      Good point about doubles. I haven’t considered that.

      My article does state that it’s only in the slams although it may not be clear to all readers.

      That is an interesting idea to split the slams. That may be better although the women’s tournament would lack fan interest if they did that.

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