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By Chris Oddo/ Wednesday, September 25, 2013

 

WTA Chief Stacey Allaster says that women are prepared to play best-of-five sets at Grand Slams if that is what it takes for them to justify equal prize money.

Photo Source: Matthew Stockman/Getty

Speaking in an interview with the AFP, WTA Tour chief Stacey Allaster said that her players were “ready, willing and able” to play best-of-five set matches at Grand Slams in order to justify equal prize money at the events. “All you have to do is ask us,” she said.

The comments come on the heels of Andy Murray's own views on the matter, which he stated unequivocally during a series of interviews with the New York Times' Ben Rothenberg during the U.S. Open. “I think the women should play best-of-five sets,” Murray said. “I don’t see why they couldn’t do it. It would mean the days in the Slams are a little bit longer. And maybe it doesn’t have to be from the first rounds. I think either the men go three sets or the women go five sets. I think that’s more what the guys tend to complain about, rather than the equal prize money itself.”

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Murray, a longtime fan and supporter of women's tennis, who was coached by his mother Judy Murray for much of his life, said he'd prefer that the men kept things at best-of-five in the Slams, and added that he feels women would have no problem with the extra workload. “They did it before,” Murray said. “They used to do it in finals... I think in the tour finals, and some of the big finals on the WTA Tour. So it’s not like women cannot play five sets. Steffi Graf and [Martina] Navratilova and those players were unbelievable over five sets, and in great shape. So it’s not that, that isn’t the issue.”

Murray and Allaster both are fully aware that the issue is that of time. For the women to play best-of-five sets at Slams, schedulers, already faced with difficult weather-induced delays and long, arduous days as it is, would be hard-pressed to work the change into the slender confines of a Grand Slam fortnight.

Allaster agrees that it would be extremely difficult to manage, if not next to impossible. "It would take a lot longer to have our matches if it were five sets," Allaster told AFP, when asked 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."

Debates on the subject have gone both ways. Some feel that the men should play best-of-three at the Slams, giving fans and TV a more concise product to chew on, while other feel that the essence of Grand Slam tennis is best-of-five gladiator-style battles for the men.

Allaster's willingness to acquiesce to the demands of tennis's governing body on the matter is an intelligent way to respond to Murray's comments. Regardless of the WTA's eagerness to prove its mettle, lengthening women's matches, which many believe are more dramatic and palatable in their current form than the men's marathon matches at the Slams, would be a big mistake, both for the game's television presence and the long term health of its stars.

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The best long term solution is to leave things as they are. This way the tennis fan gets the best of both worlds. As far as the prize money goes, that's fine, too. Why can't tennis just embrace the fact that part of its legacy is its willingness to embrace equality and opportunity in every way? Not many other sports can say that. Men and women should be proud of that rather than endlessly complaining about it.

As tennis celebrates the 40th anniversary of the formation of the WTA Tour and Billie Jean King's epic battle of the sexes match with Bobby Riggs this year, now is the time to embrace the revolutionary changes that tennis greats have helped to cultivate. Best-of-three? Best-of-five? In the big picture, does it really matter? What matters more than anything else, is that tennis, more than any other sport, is better at creating opportunities for female players. Men should be proud to play a role in that and they really should do a better job of embracing it rather than complaining about it.

Allaster would rather focus on the positives than the negatives and credit to her and the WTA for that.

"I think there's still work to be done. We're a microcosm of society," Allaster said. "A great part of what Billie started is that this is about gender equality, empowerment of women. I have the best female athletes in the world as role models for that vision."


 

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