Equal Pay in Tennis: Tournaments, Tiers, & Tickets Traci couch

Though the Grand Slam tournaments offer equal pay to the male and female singles champions, men still earn more yearly than women. Some say it's broadcasting rights, others say men draw a bigger crowd. Do either actually play that big of a role? Or is it the way the ATP and WTA are structured through number of tournaments, tournament tiers, and the respective earnings of each of those tiers? There is more to this than casual fans might think.

A (very) Brief history

Billie Jean King. Serena Williams. Chris Evert. Venus Williams. These women are some of the most well-known athletes in the world and champions of the game. They are heroes to female tennis players around the world because they fought for equality in sport, in career, and in life. In 1968, the winners of the first Wimbledon tournament of the open era were Rod Laver and Billie Jean King (WTA Tennis, 2015). Laver was awarded £2,000 in prize money and King a mere £750. Two years later, King was awarded only $600 at the Foro Italico in comparison to the $3,500 awarded to the same tournament's male champion, Ilie Nastase (Bodo, 2018). In 1973, King's fight for pay equality gained enough traction that the US Open was the first Grand Slam to offer equal prize money (Meyers, 2013) . That same year, King helped found the Women's Tennis Association. To read more about King and her history with the game, visit her website.

Equal pay in tennis has long been a controversy and a battle in which many female athletes are willing to fight. After all Grand Slams offered equal winnings, a number of the male players have spoken out in favor of raising their own earnings in response. Many have said that women are emotional and should be thinking about their family (or making one) instead of playing tennis. Not only is this sexist view held in tennis, but all pro sports. Statements can be found here (Connelly, 2016), here (McDuffee, 2016), here (Howard, 2016), and here (Clarke, 2015).

Top Earners & Players in the Game

Only three women are ranked in the top 10 highest earning tennis players of all time: Serena Williams at No. 4, Venus Williams at No. 7, and Maria Sharapova at No. 8 (Gaines & Loudenback, 2018).

For a closer look at the breakdown of tournaments won and career earnings, one only needs to look at ESPN for ATP (ESPN, 2018a) and WTA (ESPN, 2018b) rankings and player profiles. The current men's world No. 1 and highest earning tennis player of all time is Novak Djokovic. His current record of 832-174 has earned him more than $121 million since turning pro in 2003 (ESPN, 2018c). He has won 14 Grand Slams. World No. 3 Roger Federer (ESPN, 2018d) turned pro in 1998, has won 346 more matches than Djokovic, holds 20 Grand Slam titles (most by any male player), and has earned almost $119 million in comparison. Moss (2015) discovered a nearly $8.1 million increase in prize winnings at the same Grand Slams Djokovic won in 2011 and 2015.

Serena (ESPN, 2018e), however, is currently ranked No. 16 but is the highest earning female player of all time. After turning pro in 1995, she has earned just over $88 million and has a record of 801-136. She has 23 Grand Slam titles - more than any current player male or female. She needs only one more to tie with Margaret Court - the player with the most Grand Slam titles in history.

This is an almost $33 million difference between her and Djokovic though she has won nine more Grand Slam titles and has played eight years longer. How?


In professional tennis, the men and women compete under their own organizations. The men compete under the ATP and the women under the WTA. Each has its own rules, calendar, tournament tiers, and point system. Both are governed by the International Tennis Federation and must abide by its rules. The ITF oversees all tournaments by both organizations and works closely with the four Grand Slam tournaments (Australian Open, French Open, Wimbledon, and US Open).


The ATP and WTA each have their own yearly calendar that the players follow and there are different tiers or levels that award different earnings. In the ATP, the lowest tier is the ATP 250, followed by the ATP 500, and the highest tier is the ATP 1000. In the WTA, the lowest tier is International, followed by Premier, Premier 5, and the highest tier is Premier Mandatory. The higher the tier for men and women, the higher the earnings. Note: The WTA also has Premier 700 tournaments but are listed as Premier on their calendar.

Many tournaments are held in similar weeks under both organizations but are different tier. This allows lower-ranked players to compete at lower tier tournaments to earn points and prize money if they do not qualify for the higher tier tournaments.

According to the 2018 WTA calendar, the women's International tier is relatively consistent in prize money (WTA Tennis, 2018a). Almost all of these tournaments have a total financial commitment, or purse, of $250,000 with only one having as much as a $750,000 purse. This is then distributed from first round losers to the finalist with the winner earning the most. On the other side, the ATP's lowest tier tournaments (ATP 250) can have largely different earnings. For example, the Qatar Open (ATP, 2018c) offers a purse of over $1.28 million, but the Auckland ASB Classic (ATP, 2018a) only has a purse of $501,345 - a difference of $785,330.

As for tournament types, there are combined and non-combined events meaning that men and women either play the same tournament at the same time, the same tournament is played during different weeks, or they don't play the same tournament at all. After looking through both the ATP and WTA calendars, there are 11 combined tournaments (excluding Grand Slams) and four tournaments played by both men and women during different weeks. For example, at the 2018 BNP Paribas Open in Indian Wells - ATP 1000 and Premier Mandatory tier combined - both the male and female singles champion earned just over $1.34 million.

However, according to the Western & Southern Open (2018) website and an article covering the Rogers Cup (Hickey, 2018) in Toronto show that the male winners receive double or more than double compared to the female winners of these tournaments. Both of these tournaments are combined events and are ATP 1000 (highest tier) and WTA Premier 5 (second-highest tier).

The following chart outlines the ATP versus WTA tier and earnings at combined events.

Out of 15 combined tournaments, this chart shows that eight tournaments are equal tier. In the equal tier tournaments, the ATP earns more at two, the WTA earns more at three, and they earn equal at three of the tournaments. In the unequal tier tournaments, the ATP earns more at five and the WTA earns more at two, despite having only the China Open as the higher of the two tiers.

The WTA has four Premier Mandatory tournaments while the ATP offers nine ATP 1000 tournaments. Again, these are the highest tiers for each organization. Three of those nine ATP 1000 tournaments (not listed on the chart) are non-combined; the women do not play those venues or tournaments. Male players have more than double the chances of their female counterparts to play at their highest tier tournaments, therefore more chances to earn higher amounts in prize money.

According to the Levitt (2018), "71 percent of the world’s top 100 men have earned more than women of the same ranking, based on prize money per tournament played." Moss (2016) breaks down the ATP and WTA tournament tiers and rankings compared to prize money won beautifully and discovered that in 2015, female players earned only $.76 on the dollar to the men.

On Nov. 15, the ATP announced they would create the ATP Cup - a new team competition set to start in January of next year (Cambers, 2018). This event offers $15 million in prize money, though it is not mandatory for the players to compete. The ATP also holds other team events throughout the year including the Davis Cup, the combined Hopman Cup, and the Laver Cup (an invitation-based event over the course of three days in September).

Grand Slams

The four Grand Slam tournaments are combined and give the highest amount in prize earnings. The US Open was the first to award equal earnings in 1973 and would be for almost 30 years. The Australian Open was second in 2001, followed by the French Open in 2006, and finally Wimbledon in 2007.

The Grand Slams are the only tournaments that the men play best of five sets – all other tournaments are best of three. Just like the women. But does this mean they should earn more? It obviously doesn’t because male and female players earn the same at these tournaments. Some male players disagree with equal earnings citing they draw more spectators. However, Serena Williams has proved them wrong by helping the US Open women's final sell out faster than the men's final in 2015 (Snyder, 2015).

Tennis Season

Men play 11 months out of the year starting at the tail end of December, but can play long into November if they qualify individually for the Nitto ATP Finals (held in mid-November) or their country qualifies for the Davis Cup Finals (Macur, 2011). Some of the top male players including current No. 1 Novak Djokovic (ABC News, 2018) and recent young hot shot Alexander "Sascha" Zverev (Briggs, 2018) have spoken out against the long and crowded schedule, especially after the ATP Cup was announced.

The women's season begins at the same time as the men's; however, their regular season ends in October. The WTA Elite Trophy and the WTA Finals are held the final two weeks of October and only the team Fed Cup Finals are held two weeks into November.

Because the ATP has a longer season, more tournaments are played, and more prize money is awarded. Does this mean that men should still be awarded significantly more, especially considering the previous example of Djokovic and Serena?

Other Contributing factors

Top 100 Rankings, Earnings

In this year's Forbes Top 100 Highest Paid Athletes, four male tennis players make the list: Federer, Nadal, Kei Nishikori, and Djokovic (Forbes, 2018). No women make this list - not even Serena who missed the mark by $4 million, earning a total of $18 million from June 2017 - June 2018 (Badenhausen, 2018a). The list includes the athlete's winnings and what they have made in endorsements. It should be noted that Serena took off 14 months after her 2017 Australian Open win to have her first child, which may be the reason she is not on this list. However, out of the top 10 highest earning female athletes, tennis players take eight of those spots (Badenhausen, 2018b). This says a lot about how far female tennis players have come compared to other professional sports.

Broadcasting & Ticket Sales

Many male players base their higher pay argument on viewership and ticket sales (Benjamin, 2018). However, during this year's finals at Wimbledon (Tandon, 2018) and for five years straight (2010-2014) and in 2017 at the US Open (Levitt, 2018), women have had a larger viewership than that of the men's, including those finals played by top-ranked Nadal and Djokovic. Going back to the length of the tennis season, men play more weeks out of the year, therefore more opportunities to have matches on TV.

Siddique's (2018) research show that men play more often than women on Wimbledon's Center and No. 1 courts, which have more seating, therefore more tickets are sold to fill these larger venues. This means spectators have more opportunities to watch a single men's match at one time than a women's match. However, this is a Grand Slam with equal earnings. At many of the smaller combined events, passes can be purchased to watch any match on the grounds during the entire tournament.

If the men (especially lower-ranked men) really want to base their argument on viewership, they should compare how many people come to see their matches when Serena, Venus, Sharapova, Simona Halep, or any of other top female players play at the same time. If we didn't currently have Serena and Venus, sure, the men would probably draw a lot more spectators. On the other hand, if the men didn't have the likes of Federer, Nadal, or Djokovic (an argument can also be made for Andy Murray), but we still had Serena and Venus, the women would consistently draw a bigger crowd. How would their argument hold up then? It comes down to who is playing who and when.

Unfortunately, I couldn't find any data on broadcasting or viewership to compare for combined events or non-combined tournaments at different tiers. (Where are those male players getting their numbers?)

MAtch Point

Male tennis players may have to play a couple of weeks longer but they have more individual opportunities to earn more prize money. Considering each of the factors presented here, this explains how Djokovic has earned more over a shorter career with less Grand Slam titles compared to Serena.

This is not just a match for the WTA and its athletes to win, it is a battle for all females in their respective careers. Even though the Grand Slams and few others offer equal winnings, the combined but different tier tournaments should be the next step in the fight for equality. This will show that female athletes are being heard and earning the same for doing the same as a male player.

In creating hashtags to help spread awareness through social media, I chose these two for specific reasons. The first hashtag includes the '4' instead of 'for' to represent the four Grand Slams that offer equal earnings. The second hashtag has a double meaning: match the earnings of the men and earnings won in a tennis match. The purple color of the tennis ball honors Billie Jean King and what she started in 1968.

Equal earnings continues to be an important battle for female soccer players, golfers, hockey players, and women in general fighting for equal pay when doing the same job as a male. Tennis has come a long way in this fight, but it still has a long way to go.

I just wish that we would be a leader, that it wouldn’t matter about who is more popular, who is this or that. We, as a sport, could stand for something more than equal prize money — we’d stand for community and sportsmanship.” - Andrea Petkovic


Created By
Traci Couch


Created with images by Lucas Davies - "Father-Son Tennis" • Constantin - "stadium tennis court tennis audience observer us" • Filip Mroz - "Tennis" • Steffan Mitchell - "Tennis From Above"

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