Why It's Past Time For Wimbledon To Put Women Front And Centre

AP Photo/Kirsty Wigglesworth

Caroline Wozniacki took a shot at Wimbledon for putting fewer women's matches on the tournament's biggest stages.

LONDON -- Eight years after Wimbledon ever so kindly deigned to pay the winners in the women's draw what the men earn, both Serena Williams and Caroline Wozniacki said the women still don't get placement on the show courts at the same rate as the men.

"We're still fighting on that," Williams said. "We made progress making sure that women have more featured matches. It's just a little bit at a time. Hopefully we'll get to the point where we'll have even more featured matches."

She's being polite about it, possibly influenced by all those genteel traditions infusing the grounds, from the flats of fresh surfinia to the patient queues for strawberries and cream. But a simple look at the Centre Court lineups is all it takes to see that Williams and Wozniacki are only pointing out the obvious.

"Every year there's two men's and one women's match on the main courts, Court 1 as well as Centre Court," Williams said.

The first week of the tournament, the men's matches on Centre Court outnumbered the women's 14 to 8, and on Court 1 the discrepancy was 12 to 7. There were days with three men's matches on Centre Court and one women's match.

In a statement, Wimbledon said that "complex and often conflicting factors need to be considered when the referee and his team create the daily order of play," adding these included "the preference of TV, scheduling demands on players and the size of fan support for individual players."

Wimbledon is a tournament that didn't offer equal prize money to the women until 2007, after being publicly shamed into it by Venus Williams in a Times of London op-ed.

Equity in pay and treatment has been a big part of the sports discussion in the wake of the U.S. victory at the Women's World Cup, a win that was watched more than any other soccer game ever in U.S. history. Despite their ability to draw -- and hold -- a live television audience in the age of the DVR, FIFA paid the women's winners a reported $2 million, compared to $8 million for men's teams that bowed out in the group stage last year.

You can quibble, but women's tennis, relative to men's tennis, has been more successful than any other pro sport. Compared to other women's sports, tennis players at the middle level earn more than their female counterparts. And at the top, Serena Williams and Maria Sharapova were the only two women on the Forbes list of the top-earning athletes.

Only two, and at least one of those iconic women has an issue with the way their matches are scheduled at Wimbledon.

Oh, they can get on Centre Court, especially on a day such as Tuesday when the women's quarters were the only singles matches scheduled (before Novak Djokovic resumed a riveting match to reach the quarterfinal).

"Most of last week it was only one women's match on Court 2 as well," Wozniacki said. "It's definitely different, that's all I can say. I think a lot of us women feel like we deserve to play on the big courts in front of a big crowd, as well."

With the schedule like that, a midtier men's player is more likely to get that experience on a show court, get the visibility on a show court -- and the television exposure that goes along with it.

The truth is, when men and women play tennis together, it is great for both games. There is this antiquated attitude that the women should just be happy that they are allowed to play these great venues with the men, but having both tournaments run simultaneously brings bigger gates, bigger television audiences and more advertising interest.

Two women's quarterfinals were played on Centre Court on Tuesday, and they both went three sets. The quality of tennis was exceptional, and Williams' quarterfinal win over Victoria Azarenka featured tremendous serving, shot-making and even an obscenity citation from the umpire to the Belarussian. What more could you want in a match?

For those who complain that women play only best-of-three sets, those two quarterfinal matches took the crowd from lunch until well after tea. They watched as Sharapova nearly lost footing to unheralded American Coco Vandeweghe, and laughed as Williams appeared to mock Azarenka's loud game.

Just happy to be here? Hardly.

You can get a dud of a match out of the men's draw as well, you just have to yawn through a little more of it.

Wimbledon has shown how reluctant it is to change, but a subtle refusal to give the women equal time on the show courts is a bad look, and a poor business decision. Fans want to see the female athletes they follow compensated and respected when their performance demands it.

And there's no reason to be polite about it anymore.

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