Monday, March 05, 2007

Wimbledon Wimmen

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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