What is the main event? In sport, we all know what it means. It’s like in boxing or mixed martial arts, there is an undercard followed by the main event. A solid supporting cast of performers who serve as the appetiser to the main event which closes the show. No-one remembers the undercard, no-one really cares, the main event is what people pay to see, it’s the main attraction. Every sports person wants to be in the main event and every sports fan wants to watch it. Tennis follows the same framework, the early rounds of a tournament are just the warm-up, the undercard, leading up to the final which is the main event.
In Grand Slam tennis, the main event is the biggest match on the final day Sunday of the tournament. This has somehow always automatically meant the men’s singles final. It seems to be the status quo; the way things have always been done but it is time to question why? Why is this always the case year after year? Why has there not been any change?
This is just a brief look at some stories and events at the different Grand Slam tournaments, make of them what you will. Let’s start with the Aussie Open.
There was much made this year about the AO and how finally there was fairness with regards to the men’s singles semi-finals schedule. In previous years, one semi-final was played on Thursday and one on the Friday, giving the player who advanced on the Thursday an extra 24 hrs rest and recovery ahead of the final. There were claims of this not being fair or right and now the tennis authorities down under have decided from 2022 that both men’s singles semi-finals will be played on the Friday.
The men’s semifinalists include Daniil Medvedev, who had this to say following a tight 4th round win after playing on the 2nd biggest court: ‘What should I do to play on centre courts in Grand Slams… because I won the last Slam’. Two of his previous three were played on Laver, and all of his subsequent matches. It is the audacity that he feels he has the right to play on Rod Laver all the time that is wrong and those comments cannot be justified. The other singles player who won the last Slam, Emma Raducanu played none of her two matches on Rod Laver, including a blockbuster of a 1st round pitting her against a former Slam champion in Sloane Stephens. That match deserved a stage like Rod Laver Arena but never got it. Did anybody hear the women complain about this?
It is not fair or right to have no women’s match on the final Sunday either, but you don’t hear the same outcry for that. The organisers, to their credit, have ensured Rod Laver Arena, the main show court at the Australian Open, has had a higher percentage of women’s matches vs. men’s matches over the last 3 years. It’s a step in the right direction and what better way to put an exclamation point on showcasing women’s tennis than introducing a women’s final on a Sunday?
If the organisers have previously had one men’s semi-final on Thursday, which none of the other Slams do, then it would be easy enough for them to include both that day and have a Saturday final to give women the main event spot for a Sunday final. Of all the Grand Slams, the Australian Open appears the easiest to change from a scheduling point of view, but it should not even be about that, it is morally the right and fair thing to do to give women that spotlight. It just so happens that this years women’s final included their own player, world number 1 Ash Barty, looking to become the first Aussie to win their home Slam in over 40 years. Imagine a Sunday women’s final, historic, with the tantalising prospect of a home grown winner. It was the perfect storyline for the organisers to repair some of their damaged reputation.
A clear example of gender bias and a controversial incident in tennis took place at the 2019 French Open. The semi-finals stage is a very significant stage of any tournament, let alone a Grand Slam. There is no logical explanation as to why women were prevented from playing on Court Philippe Chatrier, the main show court with a capacity of 15,000 spectators, when both men’s semi-finals were played on it. Chatrier got a brand spanking new makeover that year, but it was a case of the same old thing; the last 3 years of data show most matches on that court were men’s, go further back in history and it’s likely the same.
Not only were women relegated from the main show court in 2019, but two of these players had to face the ignominy of playing the second biggest match of the tournament and quite possibly the biggest match of their careers, in front of a sparse crowd on the 3rd biggest court available. Everyone how important crowds are in sports, so who knows that would have happened had these women been able to play in front of a packed Chatrier? They earned that right, and it could have inspired their best tennis and would have completely changed the dynamics of the matches if they played on the biggest court.
Johanna Konta played what would turn out to be the last of her three Grand Slam semi-finals and has since retired from the sport. How unfortunate that one of the biggest matches of her career, was played out in front of a handful of people on Court Simonne-Mathieu. The fact most people have never even heard of that court tells you everything you need to know. The opponent who beat her to reach the final, Markéta Vondroušová never got the opportunity to play on Chatrier before she played Ashleigh Barty, in what would be both of their maiden Grand Slam singles finals. Reaching a Slam final without ever having played on the main show court. Has that ever, or would that ever happen to a male player?
For Barty, the rest is history; she went on to win, become world number 1 and win multiple Slams. It remains Vondroušová’s best result at a major. To top it all off, on the day of the final, the schedulers opted to complete a rain affected men’s semi-final ahead of the women’s final. It’s not only unfair and sickening behaviour by the organisers, its potentially career altering for the players.
The only explanation is that gender bias had taken place. Men were given preferential treatment to play on the biggest court, because they were deemed to be more important. It is extraordinary how tennis authorities get away with such behaviour, it’s despicable and they should be held to account. It was labelled a disgrace at the time by many, but attention soon turned to that upcoming Wimbledon, and the events of the French Open were swiftly forgotten.
Talking of SW19, Wimbledon likes to think of itself as the crown jewel of all the Grand Slams but if you look how they operate, it makes you think twice. History and tradition are important to All England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club, to give them their full title. Some of their history and traditions are outdated, from a bygone era and need changing now.
The men’s singles defending champion always opens the play on Centre Court on the first Monday of the tournament, never the women’s champion. Why?
The men’s singles final is always on the last Sunday of the tournament, in the main event slot, never the women’s singles final. Why?
Wimbledon has a scoreboard on their grounds at the entrance and they display the result of the last major match on the final day and it’s always the men’s final score. They keep that scoreboard up all year, so not only do they push the men to front and centre during the tournament, but they are also on display for all to see the other 50 weeks of the year. A symbolic gesture of male favouritism by the biggest tennis tournament in the world.
If you look at Grand Slam winners, three of the four women’s singles champions receive trophies, and the runners up receive a plate/platter. Wimbledon’s famous ‘Rosewater Dish’ is given to the women’s singles champion. With all due respect, it is a glorified plate/platter that looks fancy, it’s not even a real trophy, the clue is in the name. The most sought after and prestigious prize in the women’s game looks like this.
The saying goes that no player is bigger than the sport. Tell that to Serena Williams and Angelique Kerber who in 2018, had to start the biggest match of the year without a scheduled start time. They were put on after the conclusion of the rain affected men’s semi-final between Nadal & Djokovic. Clearly these men’s players were given preferential treatment over the women’s final and it’s not acceptable. Williams and Kerber had to wait 3 hours to play their match and the point needs to be emphasised, it is unfair, career changing and potentially history changing. Serena was going for a record-equalling 24th major title, and up to that point, when a Wimbledon final had started as scheduled, she had won seven out of nine finals. It’s all hypothetical now, but winning that match, she could have gone on to have at least 3 chances at a record breaking 25 Grand Slam titles. Tennis history could have changed from unfair scheduling and not by what happened on court, that should never come into the equation.
Wimbledon has also included Emma Raducanu, recent US Open women’s champion, as a member. This is normally only reserved for Wimbledon champions, but it was a very calculated move to capitalise on the marketability of this new British superstar because her name associated with Wimbledon would benefit them. But when have they ever, in their history, pushed the women’s game to the heights that they deserve, to the last match on the last day’s play? Never. And they need to be called out for that.
The lasting and indelible image from Grand Slams is the champion holding the trophy, posing for the photographers. Why not give women that match, and give them a real trophy to pose with? Women deserve it. That is how you inspire a generation and millions of people all around the world, it leaves a lasting impression.
From 2022, Wimbledon is playing matches on the middle Sunday, whereas in previous years that was a rest day for the tournament and made the second week very tight to schedule. This year also marks 100 years of Centre Court in its current location and over that century there has been a higher percentage of men playing on the world’s most famous court than women, it’s time to restore some balance. What better way to demonstrate Wimbledon as the most special and prestigious tournament in the sport by doing something that’s never been done before and is long overdue? Giving women the main event Sunday final.
Arthur Ashe stadium is the biggest tennis court in the world, and on the face of it, the fairest. Over the last 3 years of data, there has been a 50-50 split between men’s and women’s matches on Ashe at the US Open. This is better, progress in the right direction. The Open Era began in 1968, and ever since then men have gotten preferential treatment over women so in the interest of fairness and equality, the next 53 years should belong to the women’s game, clearly changes are needed. For many years, the US Open had ‘Super Saturday’ which included both the women’s final and the two men’s semi-finals on the same ‘super’ Saturday. Even on the day that two women’s players got to play a Slam final in front of the biggest tennis crowd in the world, it still had to be about men too. The reason Super Saturday was cancelled was not because the US Open thought the women deserved finals day to themselves, it was because they wanted to improve men’s players chances by giving them a day’s rest, playing on Friday ahead of their own showpiece Sunday final.
It almost beyond belief that these are the kinds of things that happen at the Grand Slam events, the tournaments that are the showcase and the pinnacle of the sport. It’s been going on for so long, for so many years that people just accept it. Enough is enough.
The numbers will tell you that tennis is the fairest sport of them all. It was the first major sport to introduce equal pay for men and women at the highest level, the Grand Slams. That is nothing but a facade to hide the deep-rooted problems of inequality tennis has been facing for decades.
The bottom line is this, changing a women’s Grand Slam Final to a Sunday would be historic and bigger than the sport.
The best gift that tennis can give women is the spotlight they have earned, the spotlight they deserve, on the biggest stages in the world.
The Main Event.
If you believe in women’s tennis, please sign this petition: https://chng.it/R9k5XVxP
Together, we can change the face of the sport.