Wimbledon has decided to award identical prize money to men and women at this year’s championship. There has been some debate about the fact that men compete over 5 sets, while women compete over 3 sets. Presumably this is historical and relates to the perceived physical differences between the sexes.
However, is a 40% differential appropriate and would women’s tennis benefit, as a spectator sport, if there was a greater emphasis on the physical endurance aspect of sporting performance?
A brief look at other sports suggests that this 40% differential may well be too large:
Track & Field - the average performance differential for middle distance events e.g. 1500, 5000 & 10000 metres, among elite athletes is about 15% - ditto the marathon. In high & long jumps it’s about 20%.
Swimming - the difference in world record times for all Freestyle distances between 50m and 800m ranges between 10% - 15%.
Golf - Ladies play 18 holes of golf - the ladies tees generally reduce distance by no more than 20%, often less.
Equestrian - ladies compete on an equal footing with men in show-jumping, 3-day eventing and there are even a small number of successful lady jockeys riding professionally against the men e.g. Nina Carberry.
All this suggests that the gap between men and women in tennis should be reduced to a maximum of 20%.
Bearing in mind that there needs to be an uneven number of sets in order to ensure a winner, this could be achieved by either increasing the number of games in each of the existing 3 sets or, preferably, making it the best of 5 sets with the number of games in each set reduced e.g. first to 5 games with a two-game lead.
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