Equal pay for equal work – unless you play tennis

English: Japanese Tennis player Ayumi Morita d...

English: Japanese Tennis player Ayumi Morita during the retirement ceremony for her colleague Ai Sugiyama on the opening day of the Toray Pan Pacific Open 2009 in Tokyo. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Equality is something we all believe in. Irrespective of ethnicity, gender or religion all humans should have equal rights and receive equal pay for equal work. Regular readers will also know I am not against a bit of affirmative action when required to correct imbalances that have existed for generations.

Then we have tennis players. Professional tennis players, to be specific. The Australian Open is on, which is why I am contemplating this. I contemplate it every year, an indication it still annoys me.

For those not into tennis, a little background, otherwise you won’t get my work rate analysis. There are lots of tennis tournaments every year. At most of these tournaments both men and women play best of three set matches.  I’m fine with that – level playing field, equal remuneration, it is all good!

Matches are made up of sets and sets are made up of games. Games are decided on points, but nothing as simple as 1, 2, 3. No, no. The first “point” is actually 15, the second is 15 and the third is 10. Once the player reaches 40 (15 + 15 + 10 if your maths are rusty) just one more winner will see him/her tuck that game under his/her belt. Unless the opponent is also on 40. NOW a player has to win two points in a row to take the game. Trust me, THIS can go on for a while. A player wins a serve, goes to “Advantage”. The opponent wins the next point, they are back to 40-40.  So a game can be short and sweet or long and laborious.

Each set may have as few as six games or as many as thirteen including a tie-breaker.

Then there are the four Grand Slam tournaments; Wimbledon, US Open, French Open and Australian Open. At these four tournaments the women play best of three set matches and the men play best of five set matches.  The fifth (or third for the women) set continues ad infinitum until there is a two game advantage, no tie-break. The longest ever (so far, that is) was between John Isner and Nicolas Mahut at Wimbledon in 2010. The match lasted eleven hours and five minutes. Exceptional, indeed, but an indication of what can happen in Grand Slam tennis.

I just cannot accept that equal money for unequal work is fair.

Gilles Simon of France is reported as having said men “provide a more attractive show” in their matches. I don’t think that is a very sensible argument, personally, although he and I agree about the unfairness of it all.

For me, it simply comes down to work. The other day Ayumi Morita and Gael Monfils left the Australian Open  at the same stage, Round 3. Ayumi played a total of 66 minutes; Gael played 283 minutes (nearly 5 hours). Yet they both went home with $22,750 if I understand the prize pool correctly. If I was Gael Monfils, I wouldn’t think that was very fair. Certainly not equal pay for equal work.

The ultimate winners, by the end of the tournament, could conceivably have played 21 sets (women) and 35 sets (men). Of course not all matches go to the maximum number of sets and conversely the last set can continue forever, but as a measure, it is a useful statistic.

The Boodles, Stoke Park, 2011.

The Boodles, Stoke Park, 2011. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Men will play a minimum of three sets in each match. Women play a minimum of two. These are the only tournaments where the men are guaranteed to play at least one set more per match that the women.  Women play two or three sets per match. Men play three, four or five sets per match.

Why don’t women play best of five sets if they want the same money? Do the same work!  I don’t believe it is a question of endurance. Women can run marathons and compete in triathlons. We give birth, for goodness sake! Damn hard work, if you’ve never done it!

I don’t personally believe being paid the same money for what is clearly less work is doing women any favours in the broader equality battle. I understand that the costs of competing are the same whether the player plays five sets or three. The coach charges the same, the travel costs are the same and the physiotherapist charges the same. I understand that. To me, those factors do not make the current remuneration structure fair and this is not a case of justifiable affirmative action.

There will be some tennis fans who cry “But I couldn’t listen to the screaming of the women for five sets”. I tend to agree, frankly, but that is a different debate altogether!

So, play five sets, ladies!

Other options of course are to bring the men back to three sets, but then the Slams would lose that special glow they have, or pay the women proportionally less, which I can’t see happening. Hard to go back now the equal pay is there.

There there are all the scheduling changes any change to the number of sets would bring. Fitting in all those TV ads and ensuring the overseas networks got their time slots. Logistics could be interesting.

Can you convince me it is fair? Because I can’t see it! Here I am trying to educate my kids about equality and I am having great difficulty justifying this situation!

8 comments on “Equal pay for equal work – unless you play tennis

  1. Equal pay Aus open eg women players 1st round lose in two sets 6–0 6–1 in 50 min pack up next tournament same again and again if the prize money is say 12,000 dollar each match.These player are obvious professionals top 100.I Amazed how many people can not answer the question “sports people all over payed” Q Do you think equal pay is fair Yes or No


    • I do generally think high level sports people are over paid, but then so are a lot of non-sports people. I wasn’t really looking at the salary levels in sport, but at the disparity in this particular example.


  2. We’ve got the same tennis games apparently running 24/7 on every channel over here in NZ at the moment. Ouch. You’re talking here to someone with zip interest in sport (including rugby – shock, horror, given I am a Kiwi). If it has a motor in it and can be driven round a track…well, maybe…but otherwise…natch.

    Apropos the equality of workload…it certainly seems reasonable that the women play the same number of sets as the men.


  3. Hi Robin, one reason you have a problem with equal has to do with a lack of understanding of your terms. In your comments you use equal and fair as thought they were interchangable, they are not. Equal is a mathmatical term and applies to fixed entities like numbers. Fair can be used as a social term where things, conditions, etc are unequal. For example, if you say you treat your children equally, then everytime you purchase an item for one child, you purchase the same item for all your children, whether they need it or not. If you say that you treat your children fairly, then you purchase items for each one as needed. Too often were are led to believe that equal and fair are the same, they are not, so we need to be specific in our use of these words in order to be clear,


    • Hi Paul,

      This is one time we will have to disagree I think. 🙂 If you read my previous article Equality does not mean sameness https://teamoyeniyi.com/2012/03/31/equality-does-not-mean-sameness/ you will see I am very clear on how these terms are used. There are many words that have a scientific meaning that also have a social meaning and meanings change over time as well.

      Also, I am talking about numbers. Equal pay for equal work is very much about numbers.

      If I treat my children equally, this does not mean I purchase the same item for each child if I buy an item for one. That would be totally impractical if, for example, I bought new bibs for an 18 month-old. A 7 year-old clearly would find such an item useless. Yes, providing I ensure each child has the same “things” and the same opportunities at the same stages of life, then I have treated them equally. I think all parents try to achieve that if possible.

      Irrespective, mathematically this situation is not equal. It is not valid affirmative action and I don’t believe it helps the fight for gender equality or the fight against sexism in society. It is an anomaly.


  4. I had no idea that men and women tennis players earned the same prize money.
    Must be a tennis thing, as I think with other sports women are unfortunately paid less.
    Probably not really fair Robyn, but then is it fair that all sports players are grossly overpaid compared to the average person? I know their average working life is a lot shorter than ours and I suppose they have to account for that….


    • Oh, I agree – very overpaid – although it is a costly business. $22,750 if lose in the third round. Think of all the air fares, accommodation, etc etc. Lose probably half in tax. So unless the player is a Federer or Williams, they probably don’t make a lot to start.

      Most sports people are very overpaid in my view, but so are actors and a few other professions.

      I just can’t accept the unfairness I perceive.


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