World tennis has been wrong-footed more than once in recent months.
First came the BBC and BuzzFeed report that claimed that 16 players in the top 50, including Grand Slam champions, had over the past decade been repeatedly suspected of fixing matches for betting syndicates.
Then, one of the game’s modern icons, Maria Sharapova, disclosed she had been taking a banned substance’s drug scandal.
And now Indian Wells tennis tournament CEO Raymond Moore has stepped down after saying that women should “go down every night on [their] knees and thank God that Roger Federer and Rafa Nadal were born, because they have carried this sport. They really have”.
His remarks were understandably met with anger and an instant reaction from tennis players, led by 21-time grand slam single titles winner Serena Williams, who put things in perspective by saying that like there were a lot of men who were exciting to watch, there were a lot of women who were, too.
World No 1 Novak Djokovic waded into the controversy to imply that men should get a larger share of the tennis pie in the grand slams because they drew larger crowds and their matches had higher TV ratings.
This has rekindled the long-running 5-set vs 3-set gender pay parity debate, which many believe, is a way to ensure that the game in all fairness should be played and paid for on equal grounds.
Both Djokovic and Moore have proven, once again, that while tennis has slowly attained a degree of pay parity in grand slams (Wimbledon was the last to fall in line in 2007) gendered attitudes have hardly changed.
There is no way that either of the Williams sisters or Victoria Azarenka train any less rigorously than Andy Murray or Rafael Nadal. Also, the duration of the game is not the only metric that generates or determines the spectators’ interest. The women’s game is marked by its own distinctive tactics and style that must be celebrated and not be used as a means to justify lesser prize money. And if TV ratings and ticket sales are anything to go by, the audience is sometimes as mesmerised by a three-setter between the Williams sisters as by a five-set Djokovic vs Murray thriller. The 2015 US Open women’s tournament, for instance, sold out more quickly than the men’s tournament, and Murray has said that people would much rather watch Serena Williams play than lesser-known male players. According to Murray, arguments for less pay don’t stack up as interest in tennis matches changes on a day-to-day basis, depending on the matches that are drawn, regardless of whether they are played by men or women.