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Peter A. Ubel Headshot

Equal Play for Equal Pay in Women's Tennis

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This year, for the first time, the Wimbledon Championship offered equal prize money to men and women, joining the U.S. Open more than 30 years after that tournament recognized the importance of equality between the sexes. Unfortunately, neither tournament has joined the idea of equal pay between sexes with the notion of equal play. Women's championship matches persist as best-of-3 sets, while the men battle away for as many as 5 sets. This inequality bothers me, not only as a feminist, but also as a tennis fan, for it leaves me with no hope of witnessing an epic women's final.

Consider the Men's Wimbledon's final from last July, a glorious 5-setter between Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer. If that had been a best-of-3 match, Nadal would have cruised to a quick 2-0 victory, and the final, rather than being a battle-for-the-ages, would have merely been lopsided evidence of Nadal's new dominance. However, because the men played best-of-5 sets, Federer was able to show his resilience and demonstrate to the world he can still play inspired tennis. We tennis fans were rewarded with a gargantuan match, with stirring play across both sides of the net, the winner in doubt for well more than three hours.

Contrast that with the all-Williams Women's Final. The final did not lack for excellent tennis play. Unlike previous matches between these sisters, both of them brought their A-game to this final, and the match was a joy to watch. But after a mere two sets, barely half way through my breakfast at Wimbledon omelet, the match was over. Great tennis, no doubt. But unfulfilling.

If only these women had played a best-of-5 match like the men. Would Serena have made a comeback to win the third and fourth sets? Would Venus have then regained momentum to win the fifth set? Or would Serena have continued in her remarkable comeback?

We will never know.

In the old days, people mistakenly believed that women were too frail to play 5-set matches. This mindset allowed us to go for decades without a women's Olympic marathon. This mindset still causes us to have a men's decathlon versus a women's heptathlon. And worst of all this week, as the US Open begins once again, it has left us tennis fans with no realistic chance of watching an epic women's final.

Time to fight for equal playing rights for women.