The US Open has long been the most flamboyant of the four grand slams. Held in New York; the city lives up to its reputation of endowing whatever it touches with a sense of “there’s a first time for everything!” This year, in tennis terms, is no exception…the sky high screenings in Times Square of Rafael Nadal casually flaunting his Tommy Hilfigers is testament to that. However, another notable first this year is that the women’s final has sold out before the men’s.
According to the organisers, this has never happened before in the history of the tournament. Ever. So why this year? The advertising has been no different. The crowd has the same interests, or do they? Alongside the Federers, Nadals, and Djokovics of the tennis world, one player has a more interesting story than anyone. A female player. I’m talking about America’s Serena Williams, who is aiming for the first Calendar Slam achieved by a woman since 1988.
To nail a Calendar Slam, a player must win all four grand slams in a calendar year; The Australian Open, French Open, Wimbledon, and US Open. Serena already has the first three; to win the fourth on home soil is beyond making history. But this fascination with her is unusual. Plenty of records have been smashed by extraordinary female sports stars/teams, and nobody cares or even knows about it. I mean, the Australian Diamonds netball team just won the World Championships and the media was covering Nick Kyrgios’ sledging of Stan Wawrinka.
And it’s not just netball. The Southern Stars women’s cricket team just regained the Ashes, yet only 7 per cent of sports programming in Australia covers women’s sports. And as for the pay gap, it stinks. At the 2015 ICC Cricket World Cup in Australia and New Zealand, the men competed for at least $3.975 million. Two years ago, when female cricketers played their most recent World Cup in India, the $75,000 winnings paled in comparison. There is a similar disparity in many sports including surfing, soccer and golf.
Which brings us back to tennis, one of the only high profile sports to have equal pay for both men and women. There is some contention about this. At grand slams, women play best of three sets, and the men play best of five. Women will spend about two hours on court per match, and men will play for four, five, sometimes six hours. In other smaller tournaments, all players play best of three.
The disparity in court time means a disparity in TV air time; less advertising, sponsorship exposure, and ratings. It is perfectly understandable and logical to argue that for grand slam tournaments, men receive more prize money than the women. Until seven years ago, when Wimbledon joined the pack of equal pay, that was the case.
So why the lack of pay gap in tennis? If you consider the gender equivalent training, travel, physio, press, injuries, jet lag, pain, and self-discipline athletes put themselves through, it’s entirely justified that the pay is the same. Women in all sports undergo the same physical and mental struggle as men, coupled with the constant battle to be relevant in a boys club. Yet the vast majority of sportswomen are not properly acknowledged for their colossal efforts.
There are other female sporting role models out there like Serena Williams; we just don’t hear about them. I’m not sure if women in sport will ever receive the same appreciation, at least not in the near future. However, if we make an effort to watch women’s sport on TV/in person (we should; it’s actually fabulous), talk about it on social media and generally push an interest, we may close the gap sooner than we think.