Turbulent Tennis Still an Elitist Sport?

The shockwaves are still rippling from Maria Sharapova’s admission of her failed drugs test as tennis finds itself being plunged into another controversial episode this week.

Choicest remarks made by Indian Wells organiser Raymond Moore, in which he openly states the women’s game as being inferior to the men’s, have sparked outrage from various tennis alumni. Moore, 69, resigned from his position after having said “They ride on the coat tails of the men. They don’t make any decisions. They are very lucky.”

Moore goes on to suggest that women’s players should get down on their knees and thank the Roger Federer’s and Rafa Nadal’s who have carried the sport of tennis to its current day popularity, having clearly failed to notice the signs around him that women’s tennis more than holds its own against its male counterparts. 

A recent study shows that, although the Men’s 2015 Wimbledon final between Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal drew more than double the viewership of the women’s final that pitched Serena Williams against Garbine Muguza, (9.2m to 4.3m), the Women’s U.S Open final attracted a greater number of spectators (4m) when Serena faced off against Caroline Wozniacki, opposite Maran Cilic taking on Kei Nishikori (1.9m)

This does imply that star persona attracts viewers and interests waver when there is no Djokovic, Federer, Williams or Wozniacki in the final. But it shouldn’t suggest for one minute an inferiority for women over men. 

Such an inferiority theory was present in Novak Djokovic’s words when he boldly, if shockingly, claimed that men should earn more money than women from tennis tournaments owing to them bringing in more spectators and selling more tickets. Yet the women’s final was full to capacity just the same as the men’s was. The Williams sisters have held a huge following in American tennis for as long as they have been at the forefront of the sports appeal. Djokovic, a genial player with a crowd pleasing attitude to camaraderie, will find his conservative comments will lose him a few fans as the Grand Slam season draws ever closer. 

Though Djokovic has quickly sought to amend the comments he made, his comments are still detrimental to everything women’s tennis has progressed up to in the last fifty years, since the days of Billie Jean King campaigning for women’s rights in tennis from the 1960’s, and Martina Navratilova in the 80’s. The pair, two of the most most vocal and well known tennis players in the Open Era, meant as much to women’s rights in tennis as the Equal Pay Act of 1970 meant to Britain’s workforce, in terms of gender roles.

The philosophy is the same, and no matter how many crowds the women draw in, they have competed in, or won, a tournament, fair and square. Their dues are earned and should be given as such.

Though Andy Murray has been a standout voice for equal pay for as long as his headlining career has spanned, it does not alter a sneaking suspicion that elitism still streaks through tennis. The words of Moore and Djokovic can only back this claim up, but luckily equal pay does not seem to be on the epagenda for tennis’ governing body, and long may that be the case. 


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