The tug of war over prize money in tennis has often revolved around the simple fact that at major tournaments, the men play best of five and the women play best of three. You would think, then, that in situations when both men and women play the same amount of sets, there would be no debate or question about equally distributed prize money or, phrased differently, competitive prize payouts to champions at roughly equivalent tournaments.
The WTA Premier Mandatories/5s and the ATP Masters 1000s exist on the same tier of importance. At the bottom of the pile, the WTA International and ATP 250 events inhabit the same basic plane of stature and significance. In the middle, between those polarities, reside the WTA Premier tournaments and the ATP 500s. Premiers and 500s are the closest comparisons on the WTA and ATP Tours. Naturally, their payouts should be very, very close to each other, if not exactly the same.
So, imagine how much of a gut punch this was when many people woke up on Monday morning and saw it on their timelines:
Two Premier/ATP 500 champions this week in Doha/Rotterdam:
Elise Mertens: $158,895
Gael Monfils: €405,030 (~$460,000)
— Matt Trollope (@MattyAT) February 18, 2019
The reality outlined above is appalling. This is not a best-of-five-versus-best-of-three comparison. This is for the same amount of tennis.
Moreover, consider this point about ATP tournaments this past week: The Rotterdam final — the ATP 500 event — provided an attractive matchup, but it actually had a far worse matchup based purely on rankings, compared to the ATP 250 event in Buenos Aires:
ATP 250 Final tomorrow
World #18 vs. World #19
ATP 500 Final tomorrow
World #33 vs. World #68
— Pete Ziebron (@tennisacumen) February 17, 2019
The Doha Premier tournament (the Qatar Open) had a loaded field. Simona Halep, the year-end World No. 1 player on the WTA Tour in 2017 and 2018, participated in this event. The champion, Elise Mertens, beat Halep and two other top-10 WTA players to win the title. She defeated Kiki Bertens and Angelique Kerber before taking down Simona.
Based on the quality of the tournament field, Doha far outclassed Rotterdam. Yet, Rotterdam’s purse paid out roughly $300,000 more to its champion (Gael Monfils) than Doha gave to its own winner (Mertens).
It gets worse.
Yes, of course it does.
A WTA Premier shouldn’t just exist on par with an ATP 500 in terms of prize money. It should also drastically exceed the prize money offered by an ATP 250. Yet, the Buenos Aires ATP 250 event gives $101,830 to the champion.
This means a WTA Premier gave its champion — who beat three other top-10 players — only $57,000 (roughly) more than the champion of an ATP 250 event in which only one player in the top 14 (Dominic Thiem) participated.
$57,000 is little more than the paycheck a tennis player receives these days for losing in the first round (the round of 128) at a major tournament.
Tennis leadership? Tennis governance? It would be great if we could have them.
The best-of-five-versus-best-of-three debate doesn’t even apply to prize money in this case, and yet the WTA — which gets unfairly pounded precisely for that disparity in sets — doesn’t enjoy prize-money parity when the amount of sets is equally distributed.
That is a cruel irony, one which needs to be rectified in very short order.