Tuesday, April 25, 2006
A pound is a pound ... except at Wimbledon
By Mark Kreidler Special to ESPN.com
You gotta love that Wimbledon. Or, as it's known around our grass court, the Keith Hernandez Invitational.
The good denizens of the All England Club made it official Tuesday: It isn't 2006 in at least one corner of the tennis world. While every other Grand Slam event cuts its women's champion the same check as it does the men's winner, Wimbledon will carry on its merry-prankster tradition of short-sheeting the ladies.
And in a delicious, only-at-Wimby kind of turn, they're doing it for no discernible reason whatsoever.
Oh, sure, you're not legally required to care. What we're talking about, after all, is such a slight difference that neither of the Wimbledon singles champions might even notice it after taxes. This year the men's winner will receive $1.170 million, the women's winner $1.117 million.
Since when has Roger Federer rolling through the men's draw been considered great entertainment?
That's $53,000 separating the two, or roughly enough cash to gas up the Hummer four times. Why quibble over what amounts to sock-drawer money for Roger Federer or Martina Hingis?
Why, indeed? It's Wimbledon. Go figure.
Officially, "This issue is one of a judgment on fairness," according to Tim Phillips, the chairman of the All England Club. Phillips goes on to explain that the women can make more money overall than the men because so many of the ladies also play doubles and mixed doubles, while the men, tuckered out from their best-of-five singles matches, often don't.
So, just to repeat: The women can earn more because they often appear in more matches in different categories of play, all of which are sanctioned by Wimbledon, all of which crown champions and all of which are attended by the ticket-buying public.
Sounds harsh. On the bright side, Phillips didn't go for the "unfair" version of the prize-money scale, in which the women were to be paid by the hour.
Tennis is often one of those gender-pointless sports -- one of the only such sports, come to think of it. A good or great women's rivalry in tennis (Evert-Navratilova, Graf-Seles) is received every bit as enthusiastically as a great men's ongoing duel, in part because it's so rare to have either one.
Federer might hope that Andy Roddick becomes a continuous Grand Slam foil, but for the time being the tennis world is sort of just observing Federer's dominance the way it did Pete Sampras' for a long while. The last huge stir on the women's side was probably the Williams sisters, and some great rivalries could have developed there had Venus or Serena committed fully to the sport long-term.
Still, every other Slam organizer figured out a while ago that, in any given year, the women's allure to the public is every bit as strong as the men's draw, great rivalry or no. It has nothing to do with three sets vs. five. It has everything to do with what ticket-buyers and TV watchers consider to be good entertainment where tennis is concerned.
"Entertainers don't get paid by the hour," Billie Jean King told Reuters last week. "They get paid, period. If Elton John does a concert, it could last one hour or four hours. It's a done deal."
Larry Scott, the WTA Tour executive, took the hyperbole a bit farther, saying Wimby is taking a "Victorian-era view" on pay and adding, "In the 21st century, it is morally indefensible that women competitors in a Grand Slam tournament should be receiving considerably less money than their male counterparts."
Actually, it's not so considerable in the grand scheme of things. In terms of the singles champions, it's a $53,000 difference out of a 2006 total purse of $18.549 million.
That's .003 percent of the tournament purse. Thank goodness the Wimbledon executives know where to draw the line.
Mark Kreidler of the Sacramento Bee is a regular contributor to ESPN.com. Reach him at email@example.com