Women’s Tennis: Why is equal pay not translating to equal opportunities?

2020 Australian Open Women's Trophy Media Opportunity

Sofia Kenin received the same money as Novak Djokovic for her unlikely victory in Melbourne on Saturday, but is this enough to compensate for the painfully one-sided scheduling that dominated the entire tournament?

Equal pay in Tennis has received widespread coverage in recent years, thanks principally to the influence of the Williams sisters and Billie Jean King, who has campaigned for this right for over 40 years.

This disparity in prize-money was in actuality, far less than many other sports, particularly football and basketball, yet the vocalisation of discontent was still no doubt necessary on the pathway to equality for both genders.

The Women’s Tennis Association website has released figures detailing that both Kenin and Djokovic will receive $2,853,100 for their respective victories, meaning that all Grand-Slams have now committed to equal prize money.

If it is now universally accepted that women warrant the same winnings as men however, why is it that they are failing to be showcased on the grandest stage?

The dream of any tennis player, male or female, is to play on the biggest courts at the biggest tournaments. The Rod Laver Arena, Court Philippe Chatrier, Centre-Court and the Arthur Ashe Stadium- these are the four most illustrious stadiums in tennis, that few players are ever worthy of gracing.

2019 US Open - Day 12

The unfortunate reality at present is that these showcase matches are too often and too obviously male-centric. Indeed, the night sessions on the Rod Laver Arena- infamous for producing some of the best matches in Grand-Slam history, did not feature one women’s single match across the entire second week.

In the searing heat of the Melbourne sunshine, at a time when natural disaster threatened to postpone the tournament all together, crowds queued and longed for the late-night sessions, where the roof was often closed, and tourists, enthusiasts, even coaches could enjoy the tennis for what it was, without complications or distractions.

Yet, even the women’s semi-finals, one of which featured the best player in the world Ashleigh Barty, who also happened to be Australian, were relegated to alternate, sweltering time slots which left seats deserted and the atmosphere equally bleak.

2020 Australian Open Women's Trophy Media Opportunity

Take the eventual winner Sofia Kenin as case in point. The 21-year-old rising star, defied the odds to win her maiden Grand-Slam but few could honestly say they had followed the American throughout the tournament. Victories over 15-year-old prodigy Coco Gauff and fan-favourite Barty should have dominated the headlines in the build-up to Saturday’s final, but instead, it was the unseeded, two-time major champion Garbine Muguruza who was the main talking point.

There is no argument to say there was a lack of fan interest in the women’s competition. Ironically, there were perhaps more unmissable moments throughout the past two weeks, than there has been for quite some time. Caroline Wozniacki's final Grand-Slam appearance, bookies favourite Serena Williams’ shock third-round defeat that leaves her search for an unprecedented 24th major title still ongoing and of course, the journey of Kenin on her way to a first Grand-Slam that will no doubt be the first of many.

So many unmissable moments, that were in reality missed by so many. This is why equal pay is nowhere near enough to satisfy the inconsistencies between men’s and women’s tennis.

Pay them less, pay them the same, even pay them more. It doesn’t matter what the ITF decides concerning money, because that will not solve this problem. If tennis is to be fair, equal and celebrated in the way that it deserves then something has to give and that something is the scheduling.

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