Even in Flush Tennis, equal pay is a struggle

Gaby Dabrowski is the sixth best doubles player in professional women’s tennis. She has been an Australian Open and French Open mixed doubles champion, reaching the women’s doubles final at Wimbledon in 2019. She has won 11 WTA career titles and competed for Canada at the 2016 Olympics in Rio.

But Dabrowski has no endorsement contracts other than the free gear she receives from racket manufacturer Yonex. She said she couldn’t afford a full-time coach, trainer, or physio. She buys her tennis clothes online from sustainable businesses and is grateful to the Women’s Tennis Association for a mental wellness program that allows her to use tour-sponsored psychologists.

“Double specialists earn about 10 percent of what singles earn, even during regular pre-pandemic times,” says Dabrowski, who relies on spot coaching at home and at occasional tournaments. “Fortunately, I am quite frugal. My father taught me how to budget at a very young age and I don’t have an extravagant lifestyle.”

Over the course of her 11-year career, Dabrowski, 30, has made nearly $3.5 million. At the recent tournament in Madrid, which she won with her partner Giuliana Olmos, Dabrowski earned $198,133. The following week, she and Olmos reached the final of the Italian Open, winning $33,815 each. But with the cost of travel, hotels, food, clothing and coaching, Dabrowski says she’s barely making any headway.

“The pandemic has made things a lot harder,” said Dabrowski, who is on the WTA Players’ Council and has been instrumental in redistributing prize money, with players at the top of the game getting a smaller share for winning. of a tournament, and players who lose in the first round, who struggle or try to break through, are awarded a higher percentage.

“If there’s one thing we’ve learned, it’s that we need to look for those lower-ranking players so that they never tell them to quit because they can’t make money playing tennis,” Dabrowski said. “We need to protect and support the game for them.”

Tennis has traditionally been the most lucrative of all professional sports for women. In 1970, Gladys Heldman, the publisher of World Tennis ., wrote magazine, Philip Morris brand persuaded Virginia Slims to raise $7,500 to sponsor Houston’s first women’s pro tournament.

Heldman then convinced Billie Jean King, Rosie Casals and seven other young women to sign $1 contracts to play professional tennis. The so-called Original Nine players did not earn as much in their careers as Ashleigh Barty won for taking the singles title at the 2019 Shiseido WTA Finals in Shenzhen, China. The $4.42 million Barty took home that day is more than double the $1,966,487 King earned during her 31-year career, including 39 major championships in singles, doubles and mixed doubles.

Of course, that doesn’t compare to the $94,518,971 that Serena Williams, the sport’s overall top earner, has amassed. She more than doubled that number in notes. Naomi Osaka, who has played in just nine WTA tournaments in the past year, tops the Forbes list of highest paid female athletes for 2022, generating some $58 million from more than 20 corporate sponsors. She finished just behind LeBron James, Roger Federer and Tiger Woods, but ahead of Lionel Messi, Cristiano Ronaldo and Tom Brady. Every year since 1990, when Forbes started listing the highest paid female athletes, the leader has been a tennis player.

“Tennis has always led the way because we are a global sport,” said King, who in 1971 became the first female athlete to earn $100,000 in prize money. “In 1970, we literally had to kill ourselves to get prize money and attention for women’s tennis,” King said. “Even now we have to work to be number 1. And the way we do that is by realizing that we are entertainers and there for our audience.”

Over the past 52 years, the women’s tour has had nine presenting sponsors, including Colgate, Avon and Toyota. After 12 years without a title sponsor, the WTA recently partnered with Hologic, a women’s diagnostic and medical imaging company, which has pledged millions of dollars in a multi-year deal.

Prize money in women’s tennis grew to a high of $179 million in 2019, shortly before the tour was shut down for four months due to the pandemic. The WTA’s total prize pool now stands at $157 million for 2022.

“The past two years have been very challenging for the WTA, our members and many companies around the world,” Steve Simon, the organization’s president, wrote in an email. “We are proud of the fact that our tournaments and players have done what it took to function during this period.”

For Simon, one of the major challenges was the loss of revenue from Southeast Asia. In 2019, the tour signed a $14 million deal with Japanese skincare company Shiseido to sponsor the WTA Finals in China. When Barty won the tournament, she took home the biggest prize ever in the sport, for men or women.

A year later, as the pandemic raged in China, that deal was rescinded. When Chinese player Peng Shuai suddenly disappeared from view after saying she had been sexually assaulted by a high-ranking member of the Chinese government, Simon announced that he was canceling all WTA events in China for this year. Last season’s year-end finals were moved to Guadalajara, Mexico, but the money on offer was about a third of what it had been in Shenzhen.

Another problem facing tennis is the increasing profile of women’s team sports, especially soccer and the Women’s National Basketball Association. About two weeks ago, the U.S. women’s soccer team signed a collective bargaining agreement with the U.S. Soccer Federation in which the men’s and women’s teams receive equal pay for equal work.

“Equality in team sports is essential, especially in terms of equal prize money,” said King’s business partner Ilana Kloss. “But women still have a long way to go. Forty percent of athletes are women and they get only 4 percent of the media attention. So many of these major tennis tournaments are owned by conglomerates and investment groups. And those companies now have women at the top who realize that women’s sport is good for business. It’s not just an old boys’ club anymore. We learn that the tide is now hitting all boats.”

In tennis, in most tournaments, except the majors, women still lag significantly behind men in financial compensation. At Wimbledon and the Australian, French and United States Opens, the prize money has been the same since 2007. At this year’s French Open, the winner of both the men’s and women’s singles will take home 2.2 million euros, almost 2.4 million dollars. Joint tour events in Indian Wells, California and Miami also offer equal prize money. But that is not the case everywhere.

On May 15, the world number 1 Iga Swiatek won the Italian Open and received €322,280. Hours later, Novak Djokovic defeated Stefanos Tsitsipas for the men’s championship, winning €836,355. Tsitsipas, the runner-up, earned more than €100,000 more than Swiatek.

“Does that seem fair?” asked Pam Shriver, who won 79 women’s doubles titles with Martina Navratilova. Shriver suggested that female players in Italy can only get equal pay if female entrepreneurs such as King, Serena and Venus Williams, Navratilova and Chris Evert join and buy the tournament.

“We’ve learned that not all collaborative events are created equal,” Shriver said. “At some tournaments, it’s cultural not to pay women that much. But in tennis, the pie is getting bigger and bigger. Now we just have to take a stand and make sure it’s right.”

And then there’s Tsitsipas, who waded into the topic earlier this spring by asking an old question in tennis: Should women receive the same prize money as men if they play two out of three sets at the majors and men three out of five? Women argue that it’s about entertainment value and ticket sales, not just time spent in court.

“I don’t want to be controversial or anything,” Tsitsipas said. “There’s the subject of women getting paid equally for playing the best of three. There are many scientists and statisticians. I was told that women have better stamina than men. Maybe they can play best of five.”

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