Women willing to play full five sets in cause of equality
SINGAPORE: Women’s tennis boss Stacey Allaster yesterday insisted her players were ‘‘ready and willing’’ to play five sets at Grand Slams after Andy Murray became the latest to call for equal match lengths.
Allaster, chairman and CEO of the Women’s Tennis Association, said female competitors would be quite happy to play for as long as the men if asked by the Grand Slam tournaments.
‘‘Ready, willing and able — all you have to do is ask us,’’ she said, adding that the major stumbling block was the length of time it would take at Grand Slams.
‘‘It would take a lot longer to have our matches if it were five sets,’’ Allaster said, when questioned about why women had not been asked to play longer matches.
‘‘It’s already challenging [scheduling] the Grand Slams with [men’s] five-set matches. For us, we think three sets works well for our fans, and as we look at the consumption of sport it’s being done in shorter form.’’
The debate over match length has increased with women now earning equal prize money to the men at the four Grand Slams.
Last year, French player Gilles Simon claimed the men deserved more money than women because they provided greater entertainment.
And this month, Wimbledon champion Murray said men and women should play an equal number of sets, either best of three or best of five.
Allaster said ‘‘you would have to ask’’ the Grand Slam tournaments why they had not invited women to play longer matches.
She added: ‘‘Three sets works well for us but we’ve always said we’re ready, willing and able to play five if that’s what the Grand Slams want.’’
Allaster was visiting Singapore ahead of the next year’s first end-of-season WTA Championships in the Asian citystate.
Next week, China’s Li Na will go headto-head with men’s world No.1 Novak Djokovic ahead of the China Open in Beijing.
Allaster said it was a sign of the times that, 40 years to the week after Billie Jean King’s famous ‘Battle of the Sexes’ win over Bobby Riggs, the Li and Djokovic clash was merely a sideshow.
‘‘I think that’s two great players on the men’s tour and women’s tour getting together to promote our sport, that’s what that match is about,’’ she said.
‘‘It’s a very different time. You know, the women’s movement — women couldn’t even get a credit card in 1973 in America. That was a whole different issue back then, this is about promoting our sport.’’
The WTA boss also shot down speculation that Murray and Serena Williams could play each other after the Scot challenged the American great.
‘‘I think what’s important is that Serena plays well on our tour and Andy plays well on his tour. It’s not going to be happening any time soon, that’s for sure,’’ Allaster said.
She added that the WTA’s strategy of holding more and more tournaments in Asia — including eight on Chinese soil next year — did not depend on them having Asian winners.
‘‘We’re in many markets where there are not national stars and we’ve been very successful,’’ she said.
‘‘I staged the Canadian Open in Toronto, a women-only event, and we had 50,000 fans come and we did not have a top national star.’’
And 40 years since King was instrumental in forming the WTA, Allaster said women had made huge leaps towards equality in tennis — but that they still had a long way to go.