5 July 2018

Is tennis sexist?

This week former Wimbledon singles champion Chris Evert suggested hosting the Wimbledon men's final after the women's treated women as "second class". It's the latest in a long line of accusations that tennis is sexist. What do you think?

Chris Evert wasn't the first and won't be the last to suggest that tennis is unfair on women, but it is not always the women who suffer. Here are some of the accusations:

Stereotyping: At Grand Slams, women play the best of three sets, men the best of five. This neither reflects the strength and conditioning of today's female players nor a proper understanding of the history of the game -  at the US Open between 1894 and 1901 women routinely played the best of five sets. Five years ago, the then head of the WTA said women were ready and willing to play five sets but the Slams hold out. Five sets, some say, will always give the men a perceived advantage when it comes to creating "epic" entertainment, creating a perception that men's tennis is somehow superior.

Unfair pay: Reluctantly, it sometimes seems, the Grand Slams have paid equal prize money since 2007. But other tournaments don't.  Total career winnings for Serena Williams (holder of 23 Grand Slam singles titles) $84,811,149; for Roger Federer (winner of a mere 20 singles Slams) $116,603,146. From total prize money to sponsorship packages, the deals are loaded in favour of the men.

Unfair conditions: With temperatures soaring at this year's Wimbledon, the organisers announced the heat-break rule would be in force - ten minutes suspension of play between sets two and three if temperatures hit 30.1C. But the rule applies only to women. Jamie Murray, among others, has questioned it. Mum Judy asks is it safe?

Treating pregnancy as if it were an injury: Serena Williams claims WTA rules are sexist: "If you want to have a baby and take a few months or a year off and then come back, you shouldn't have to be penalised for that." Subsequently, Wimbledon decided not to follow the WTA rankings and seeded Serena at 25 for this year's Championships.

Gender imbalance: In many ways, tennis is still a man's world... at least it is when it comes to coaching. It is something that so worries the LTA that, with the help of Judy Murray, they are aiming to double the number of female coaches in Britain.

Men v Women: Why shouldn't women take on the men in the pro game? John McEnroe famously (and controversially) suggested Serena Williams would be ranked somewhere around 700 if men and women were listed together. But Billie Jean King beat former pro Bobby Riggs in an event that generated huge publicity and revenues. Is there really no current format that could accommodate the best men and women players?

Miss, Mrs or Ms: As the New York Times pointed out this week, Wimbledon's "insistence on recording the marital status of its female participants reflects its complicated relationship with the women who play here - or, rather, the 'ladies' according to the language of Wimbledon." Currently Wimbledon refers to "Mrs" Williams, "broadcasting her marital status" when not even she has decided how she would like to be addressed. The New York Times would be happy with Ms Williams.

And what about us? Right from the start of our very first round in 2005, women have played men in Local Tennis Leagues. The idea was to create a level playing field for friendly, competitve tennis where it wasn't age or gender that decided the group you were in, but simply the quality of tennis you played. But now we also have 11 women's only leagues, and because (unfortunately) we have more men than women playing over all, some of our groups are men only. Where does the future of amateur tennis lie?

What do you  think?

Tennis is one of the few professional sports where men and women play on the same stage at the top level.