Tennis Elbow: The controversy that wasn’t

December 17, 2012 · Print This Article

Welcome to Tennis Elbow, a new column that will look back on the week that was in the world of tennis. This week, Charles Blouin-Gascon revisits the most underplayed controversy of the 2012 season.

Many narratives helped make the 2012 season a memorable one.

On the men’s side, there was Novak Djokovic/Rafael Nadal war of attrition at the Australian Open, the knee of Nadal following Roland Garros, the return of King Roger to his throne, and the arrival of everyone’s second favourite player, Andy Murray.

On the women’s side, there was the rise of Victoria Azarenka, the departure of everyone’s second favourite player in Kim Clijsters, the return of Maria Sharapova, and the domination of Serena Williams.

The 2012 season was memorable for all the right reasons–including the fact that Gilles Simon’s comments were partly swept under the rug.

During the 2012 Wimbledon Grand Slam tournament, the native of Nice mentioned that men deserved better pay than women. In his mind, there shouldn’t be equal pay, because men play a brand of tennis that is much more attractive and interesting.

Rarely are men and women’s tennis mentioned together–they’re two distinct sports, it seems. But Simon sure brought them together.

(For the sake of this column, let’s accept Simon’s argument at face value and not wonder what exactly constitutes “attractive” or “interesting” tennis. Is it a five-hour match? Is it a 90-minute classic? As a whole, is the ATP World Tour, with its four-player hegemony, more compelling than the winner-could-be-anyone-when-Serena-Williams-isn’t-on-her-game reality of the WTA Tour?)

As it stands, there is equality between men and women for all four Grand Slam tournaments–the prize money is the same for men and women players. Presumably, this is where Simon is most irked. He thinks that men’s tennis is so much more advanced compared to women’s tennis, and nothing illustrates it quite as well as the four major tournaments, where men play best-of-five-set matches seemingly only because they can.

Right? Well, yes and no.

Men and women tennis professionals are at the top of their respective sports. And the two sports are equals, thus equal pay. It’s simple, isn’t it? More and more, today’s society is working at becoming one where there is equality between men and women–where men and women increasingly receive equal compensation for the same work.

And that’s a good thing–men and women should receive equal pay if they accomplish the same thing.

For tennis, this means that Serena Williams should receive equal prize money as Andy Murray for having won the US Open like both did this year. Maybe Serena didn’t play best-of-five matches, but she played as many matches against the top players of the WTA in capturing the title, as Murray did against the top players of the ATP. If the minds behind the Australian Open, the French Open, Wimbledon and the US Open think that men and women deserve equal prize money, what does that say about Simon’s argument that men deserve more because they do so much more?

Tennis doesn’t have salaries, remember? A tennis player makes a living by winning his or her matches. Why should men players win a bigger prize for winning as many matches as women?

Simon mentions that there should be equality in all spheres of life, but not in entertainment. Alas, tennis isn’t entertainment for the players involved–it’s a job.

Prize money should be equal. Where the difference could and should be notable is with sponsorships and television deals. That’s where Maria Sharapova can get a great sponsorship deal with Nike, because she is Maria Sharapova.

In sponsorships, it’s not supposed to be fair or equal. It’s where Sharapova is a much bigger name than Simon.

Follow Charles Blouin-Gascon on Twitter @CeeeBG

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