Kia Australian Open: Should women play five sets?

The Kia Australian Open kicks off today with Aussies Bernard Tomic, Greg Jones, Anastasia Rodionova, Benjamin Mitchell, Olivia Rogowska and Ashleigh Bahty in action today. But should the women...

The Kia Australian Open kicks off today with Aussies Bernard Tomic, Greg Jones, Anastasia Rodionova, Benjamin Mitchell, Olivia Rogowska and Ashleigh Bahty in action today. But should the women be made to play five set matches rather than three?

It’s a question that has cropped up in women’s professional tennis for some time now, especially in light of the equal pay dispute. The Kia Australian Open will award men and women the same prize money, acknowledging the fact that women’s tennis is just as popular as men’s. But with the women only playing the best of three sets, to some it seems unfair to the men, who on average have to slog it out on court for far longer than the women for the same pay.

The argument here is not about the pace of the ball or the physical activity needed to produce results over a single set. Men’s tennis is unarguably faster than women’s tennis. The stats prove that. But a mans build allows him to play at that pace and expend a similar amount of energy to women playing at a slower pace. Both games are just as interesting and after a set men and women will hop off the court similarly tired if they play the average pace for their sex’s matches. So women work just as hard for a single set as men do.

But why does that mean women should only play to three sets? Like the men, they are playing to the best of their abilities. Men are shattered after three sets but as professional sportspeople do, they will pull out all the stops to get them to that fifth set if it’s a nail biter. The weak will drop, the strong will win. Women are surely capable of doing the same thing. Women in professional sports run marathons, contest Iron Women events and do physical activity that far exceeds the length of time an average five set match would take. Is it not a bit backwards of tennis to think that they couldn’t handle a five set match?

Have a look at the fitness levels of the Williams sisters, Caroline Wozniacki or even our very own Sam Stosur. Any man would be happy with the guns of Stosur. She’s proven her staying power on court and doubtless could last in a five set match against any women on the WTA tour.

John Henderson of the Guardian said back in 2008 of the same argument: “Now that they are paid the same as men they are still being denied the chance to decide their matches over more than three sets, even though Billie Jean King, the former Wimbledon champion and veteran campaigner for the women’s game, has been making the case to change this for more than 30 years.

“The origin of women playing three rather than five sets goes back to when sports were run exclusively by men who took the patronising view that women, poor dears, could not possibly compete for as long as their male counterparts.”

But Aussie former Grand Slam winner Lleyton Hewitt is one of those “patronising men” – not our words, just following along the lines of Henderson’s argument. “”The training you have to do to last five sets, especially seven best of five-set matches, it’s a lot more than three-set matches. There would obviously be question marks (over whether) a lot of them could last that much,” he told SI.com.

Hewitt’s argument has merit in that women don’t train to play five set matches. And some wouldn’t be able to last five sets, as some men can’t. But surely that could be easily resolved if they were allowed to play five set matches, and perhaps given a year’s notice so they could begin training for longer matches at Grand Slams and higher level WTA tour tournaments.

Serena Williams is another player to openly state she wants to see five set women’s tennis matches. Should this be the future of women’s tennis? This writer thinks so. If something is as good as women’s tennis, it’s only natural to want it to last longer.

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Sports & Fitness

Damian Francis has previously edited Australian T3 and F1 Racing magazine and wrote for GQ Australia and Men’s Health. Unlike Nick and Trev, he has no kids, no mortgage and no wife, but lives happily on Sydney’s North Shore with his girlfriend.

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