By Toby Davis
LONDON (Reuters) – Former world number one Victoria Azarenka said there is “big inequality” in the scheduling of men’s and women’s matches at tournaments, describing this year’s French Open as unacceptable.
Azarenka, who was knocked out of Wimbledon by Simona Halep on Friday, said the time slots and courts allocated to matches was the next big fight in the battle for gender equality in tennis.
Gender inequality in prize-money has been a longstanding issue in tennis. Women get equal prize-money at the Grand Slams but often earn less than their male counterparts at other tournaments.
Prime slots on the major show courts at the biggest tournaments and Grand Slams attract greater exposure and Azarenka said this could be a reason why women players earn less.
“You give 10 years of the same exposure and the same time slots as men’s get, and then we will look at those numbers (prize money) and you tell me the difference, okay?,” she told reporters at Wimbledon.
“That’s what those numbers — might be still the same. Hey, I’m not saying that. But give the same opportunity, and then let’s talk about facts.”
She said there had been an example of inequality at this year’s French Open, where the men’s semi-finals were played on the main Court Philippe Chatrier, while the women’s last-four matches were not after rain played havoc with the schedule.
“It’s very obvious. It’s not only French Open. I think Grand Slams have been more equal in terms of scheduling, which is not the case obviously at this year’s French Open, which was unacceptable, I believe.
“And the rest of the scheduling, there is a big inequality in that, the time slots. It has to be fixed.
“Women should be getting the same scheduling, same time slots, and that’s one of the main issues with where we are gonna try to fight for this equality. We have been fighting a lot for equality and prize money. This is the next step, for sure.”
The scheduling at Wimbledon came under the spotlight on Thursday when women’s world number one Ash Barty and holder Angelique Kerber played on Court Two while men’s eighth seed Kei Nishikori played Britain’s unseeded Cameron Norrie on Centre Court.
Twelve months ago, five-times Wimbledon champion Venus Williams contested her first-round match on Court 2.
In contrast the so called Big Four in men’s tennis — Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal, Novak Djokovic and Andy Murray — have never been scheduled to play matches outside of Centre and Court One once they had held aloft the Challenge Cup.
The last time any of the quartet had to venture on to an outside court was in 2009, when Djokovic played his fourth-round match against Dudi Sela on Court 3 — two years before he won the first of his four titles at the All England Club.
However, over the first five days of this year’s championships, there have more women’s (16) than men’s (14) singles matches contested on the two main show courts.
Azarenka said she had not been paying close attention to the scheduling at Wimbledon this year but that it was a general problem with tennis.
(Reporting by Toby Davis, editing by Pritha Sarkar)