Speaking on International Women’s Day yesterday, Billie Jean King said Grand Slam tournaments should reduce men’s matches to best-of-three sets to maintain the appeal of tennis to modern consumers.
Started by the Suffragettes in the early 1900’s, the first International Women’s Day was celebrated in 1911, and belongs to all communities everywhere – governments, companies, charities, educational institutions, networks, associations, the media and sport.
Everyone keeps saying women don't want to play five sets but I don't want the men playing five sets anymore - it takes too much out them Billie Jean King
This year there is a strong call to #PressforProgress, motivating and uniting friends, colleagues and whole communities to think, act and be gender inclusive.
While in our sport great strides have been made, however, there is still remains a gender gap as the arguments for and against equal prize money are raised year on year.
King has been a decades-long pioneer of equality within the sport in which she was a 12-time Grand Slam singles champion, collecting 6 of her haul at Wimbledon.
The 74-year-old American believes men should be playing shorter matches at the majors to ensure contests remain sufficiently bite-sized for audiences, and suggests that people want ‘quality over quantity’.
Plus, longer matches and a packed schedule have been cited as a possible cause of the rise in serious injuries among some of the game’s stars, with Andy Murray, Rafael Nadal, Djokovic and Stan Wawrinka all suffering serious injuries in the past 12 months.
“Everyone keeps saying women don’t want to play five sets but I don’t want the men playing five sets anymore – it takes too much out them,” said King, who founded the Women’s Tennis Association in 1973.
“I want them to play as long as possible [in their careers].
“I think, especially with technology and concentration spans, kids can last about seven seconds now, [so] the point is, I think, people want quality over quantity.”
Since 2007, men and women have been paid the same prize money at Grand Slams, the only events along with the Davis Cup, where men’s matches are best of five sets throughout, but women are paid significantly less at women-only events compared with similar-sized men’s events.
Novak Djokovic, the President of the ATP Player Council, has previously called for men to earn more than women, saying more people watch men’s tennis.
“You do not get paid in the entertainment business by how long you play for,” said King at the launch of the WTA Finals in Singapore on Thursday.
The debate over equal prize money, however, simply does not go away.