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Not everyone is a tennis fan. The most common criticism of tennis, and particularly women’s tennis, is that it’s boring. Whilst it is true that you might have to sit through a few tentative 40-0 games at the beginning of each match, last month’s Wimbledon final between Novak Djokovic and Roger Federer is a great example of why tennis can be a fantastic spectator sport. Five sets, four hours, and a comeback to rival all comebacks from Djokovic certainly made for an exciting Sunday afternoon.
A problem for tennis fans, however, was the lack of excitement during the women’s final the day before, between 2011 winner Petra Kvitova and 20-year-old Eugenie Bouchard, which lasted just 55 minutes. Though Kvitova won’t be complaining about an easy win to take her to her second Wimbledon title, the match has opened up the debate about whether women should play five sets at the slams. Since 2007 women have received equal prize money, superficially closing the gender gap. Yet in reality, it is now men who are disadvantaged: they play for far longer during the slams and produce far more exciting matches, so why do they only get the same as people who play three-set matches?
There is no question that female tennis players are perfectly capable of going the distance. They put in the same effort as the men but only have three sets in which to showcase that talent. Quite often for a female tennis player, as soon as they are up a set and a break, the match is virtually over, whereas for the men the possibility of five sets allows the opponent time to try to make a comeback. Five sets are naturally conducive to longer and more interesting matches. Who knows – if Eugenie Bouchard and Petra Kvitova had played five sets, Bouchard might have been able to get her act together and give Kvitova a tougher time.
The cold, hard, and possibly sexist fact of tennis at the moment is that the men’s game is far better and far more watchable than the women’s. The men’s game has never seen such class from the big four – Roger Federer, Rafa Nadal, Novak Djokovic, and Andy Murray – and even the challengers to those four are playing outstanding tennis (as proved by Murray’s defeat to 23-year-old Grigor Dimitrov in the quarter finals and Nadal’s defeat to 19-year-old Nick Kyrgios in the fourth round). Turning to the women’s game, though, who could even name members of the top ten beyond Serena Williams? Former world number ones – Victoria Azarenka and Caroline Wozniacki, for example – have been unable to step up their game. Women tennis players are just outclassed by their male counterparts, so it’s no wonder that some have dismissed the women’s game.
Surely the solution is to give women five sets at the slams, making the sport both truly gender equal and exciting? If any tennis fan was asked about an exciting Wimbledon final from the women, akin to Djokovic-Federer, or the mammoth Federer-Nadal final from 2008, they would certainly be hard-pushed. Give the women the opportunity to show that they can be just as competitive and interesting as the men and give the spectators something to talk about other than Maria Sharapova’s completely unnecessary and highly annoying screech/grunt/whatever-it-is with every hit of the ball. Female tennis players are capable of matching the men, and in order for true gender equality in tennis they need to be given the chance.