Equal prize money is one thing, equal coverage is better – an open letter to Wimbledon

 

Dear All England Club,

First of all, let me start by saying how much I love your tournament. I attended the first two days of this year’s Championships, seeing players such as Nick Kyrgios, Elina Svitolina, Milos Raonic and Karolina Pliskova on my thirteenth separate visit. It remains the jewel in the tennis crown, the special atmosphere it creates by allowing pay-on-the-day sales is to be commended. The commitment to continuous improvement of the facilities for both fans and players alike is exceptional. The pure concept of Manic Monday, the only day in the tennis calendar that all remaining 32 singles competitors battle it out across the grounds is fabulous, allowing even ground pass ticket holders the chance to see top-quality business-end matchups., however this amazing concept has highlighted a deep-seated problem within your organisation of the tournament.

 

The one thing that continues to spoil your tournament is the lack of exposure given to the women’s game. Either it is a joint ATP-WTA event or it is not. The disparity in coverage has been well and truly highlighted on Day 7 of this year’s tournament but has been going on for years. I am sure you are aware of tennis fan Mark Leyland who has presented you with statistical data over the last few years showing you this very evident difference in the amount of men’s matches scheduled on the main two courts with those of the women. I shall not go over this excellent data analysis but a quick Google search will highlight it for you. Last year appeared to signal a change in the tide with the gap between men’s and women’s matches closing but this year you have returned to the 2:1 ratio on both main courts. I discount TBA matches as whilst these often appear on the show courts, the mere fact they are TBA means they must be taken out of scheduling data.

I am fully aware of the sound reasoning for scheduling only three main matches on the show courts but I have to be honest and say I never feel like the women are under-represented in other Slams principally owing to the fact that on each of the first eight days of the tournaments, there is a 50/50 split on both show courts; two men’s matches and two women’s. A move to this type of scheduling, with an earlier start, would surely end all discussion on this type of bias. Bias is a strong word so I will provide the startling evidence from Day 7 only. Days 1-6 had a schedule of 2:1 in favour of the men on each day across the two show courts.

Bias is merely throwing together six matches and doing everything in your power to put on the top four players in the men’s game. I have little doubt that you will not listen to me as you have failed to listen to women’s world number ones in the past; Caroline Wozniacki has played on Court 2 in the past when she was the top player in the world, Jelena Jankovic on Court 18 when she was, 5-time winner Venus Williams played on that same court, and Serena Williams has played on Court 2 on more than one occasion. Goodness me, Serena Williams – the winner of 23 majors, 7 Wimbledon titles and the figurehead of a tennis generation. This is not a Pete Sampras 2002 situation, when the 7-time champ was put on Court 2 at the end of his career, Serena has been there when she is at the top of her game. Today will see a Court 2 battle between the last two runners-up,  world number one Angelique Kerber and Garbine Muguruza followed by the world number two Simona Halep against multi-slam winner Victoria Azarenka. The French Open champion Jelena Ostapenko will take on the world number five Elina Svitolina out on Court 12. What a treat for ground pass holders, but please don’t platitude me by saying this is to allow all fans to see top-class tennis. I have no issue with Venus Williams being granted the respect she deserves by appearing on Centre Court or that the British number one Johanna Konta is also on one of the principal show courts. What I have issue with is matches like Novak Djokovic v Adrian Mannarino being on Court 1, the same goes for Rafael Nadal v Gilles Muller. There is no such thing in sport as a dead cert but most pundits would be mightily surprised if those two matches aren’t finished in three sets. Can anybody truly say the matches featuring the world numbers one and two in the women’s game on Court 2 will be so heavily one-sided?

Andy Murray has not played a single match on anything but Centre Court and Court 1 since he became British number one. Roger Federer has played on those courts in every one of his matches since the 4th Round in 2003. I don’t have statistics to hand for Rafael Nadal but I am extremely confident in stating he will not have played a match on Court 2 in the last ten years and the same can be said of Novak Djokovic since the turn of the decade. Those four players have achieved a hell of a lot in their careers yet so have the top women. I believe it will be easy for you to say that a lot of factors must be taken into account each day when putting together the schedule and I know that to be true. However, a decade of prioritising those four men at the expense of great champions like Serena and Venus Williams, of successive number ones in the women’s game and of now saying that Djokovic v Muller is a bigger pull and prospect than Muguruza v Kerber or Halep v Azarenka is the biggest slap in the face of the women’s game you could ever wish to supply. Talk about giving the fans what they want by putting the men’s top four can only be considered a worthy retort if you allow equal exposure for the women’s game. If the audience do not see the top players in that sport, how will they ever choose to watch?

The move towards equal scheduling in 2016 was clearly a false dawn and your lack of coverage of the women’s game not only demeans the sport but sullies your tournament.

 

I look forward to the day when you supply a tournament that is equal in exposure, not merely in prize money.

 

 

Your faithfully,

 

Mark McElvaney

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