Should women players get the same prizemoney as men at tennis Grand Slams?
OPINION: Maria Sharapova is a special woman. She has won all four tennis majors. She speaks well in at least three languages, having taken French lessons while recuperating from surgery.
She is driven, she is admirable and she can biff a tennis ball. Masha is also laughing all the way to the bank. Even la belle Russe must wonder how on earth she is paid as much as Rafael Nadal.
Wimbledon starts in a few days' time. If Sharapova and Nadal both go one step further than last year and win their finals, each would earn 1.15 million (NZ$2.3m).
In the name of equality the four tennis slams assert that Nadal and Sharapova are worth the same level of prize money. There's one thing wrong with this piece of gender politics. It's demonstrable nonsense. Here's a question. How many women's finals can you remember from the previous six years?
If you are a tennis nut, Belgian or Chinese you may just recall Kim Clijsters' three-setter against Li Na in Melbourne last year. In 2010 Serena needed three sets to beat Justine Henin in Australia, but that's about as far as the memory banks will go.
Hell's bells, I attended three Wimbledon women's finals in that time and I can scarcely remember a point. Delete the "scarcely". I can't remember a point. But there is good reason for this collective amnesia. The women's final of the modern era tends to be a one-sided, crashing bore.
You have to go back to 2006 to find the last time the Wimbledon women's final went to three sets. The French Open hasn't had a three-setter since 2001. And quite staggeringly you have to travel back in time to 1995 to find the last women's US Open final that went to three sets (Steffi Graf beats the post-stabbing Monica Seles in a thriller).
Men and women have the same collective reaction to this predictable modern slug-fest. They would rather, much rather, watch the blokes. The men's ATP tour outside the majors is attracting record attendances, both on television and at the live event. Prize money is soaring. At the majors a survey of Wimbledon punters showed that 70 per cent were there to watch the guys.
Who can blame them? We are blessed to be witnessing one of the great eras, perhaps the greatest, of men's tennis. Three men, Nadal, Roger Federer and Novak Djokovic, are genuinely contending for the title of the greatest player in history.
Below these three Andy Murray, Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, David Ferrer, Juan Martin Del Potro, Tomas Berdych and Robin Soderling are good enough to take out the main men on any given day. Even on a rare afternoon when not much is going on, an Argentine draws blood by booting a line judge and makes front-page news.
You look at the women's top 10 and the question "anyone for tennis" is far from the lips. The eyes glaze and the hands reach for the ear muffs. I wonder how many in the top 10 you can actually name and how many Christian names you could add to the list that reads Sharapova, Azarenka, Radwanska, Kvitova, Stosur, Williams, Wozniacki, Bartoli, Kerber and Errani.
We're not exactly on first-name terms like we once were with Billie Jean, Martina and Steffi, players worth our admission money. Back in 1968 Rod Laver was paid 2000 for winning Wimbledon and Billie Jean a mere 750. That pay inequality was a product of chauvinism. Did Laver put nearly as many as three times more bums on seats than Billie-Jean? Unlikely.
But the current equality is ludicrous.
I am quite sure that the top male models would like to be earning even half of the US$45 million that Gisele Bundchen is on. But it's not going to happen. They just don't have the same pulling power. This is the entertainment business, baby. Women football players (and I coach a girls' football team for those bores who are reaching for the gender stereotypes) would love a piece of the 3 billion deal that the Premier League has just negotiated. Again, it's not going to happen – lack of pulling power.
So why on earth does tennis indulge in this sexist nonsense? The current male tennis player is being discriminated against. Although evidently not worth equal pay (the WTA does not generate anything like the income of the men's professional tour), the top women's tennis players are receiving the same pay package at the grand slam events.
When it was suggested that, in the name of equality, women should play best of five sets, Jelena Jankovic said: "You want to drive us into oblivion?" Well, no, that is more likely to happen to the spectators who have to sit through this porridge.
When Sharapova won this month's French Open she played 15 sets, and on only two occasions did her opponent take more than three games off her. Yes, Nadal was nearly as dominant, but his performance is the exception rather than the rule.
But then this era of men's tennis players is exceptional. When Nadal arrived at Beijing airport for the 2008 Olympics he was mobbed. Michael Phelps, who won eight gold medals, arrived at the same time and slipped into his transport almost unnoticed. Federer stayed outside the Olympic village in China because of all the attention he received four years earlier.
These men are superstars, and many of us, male and female, would willingly part with a chunk of our pay packet to watch them play. But why should we subsidise the women at the same time? It makes you want to screech.
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