Denis Shapovalov has called on the tennis world to ensure that men and women are paid equally across the ATP and WTA Tours.
While the four Grand Slam events pay equal prize money to men and women across all events, women are paid significantly less than men for events of an equivalent level.
Shapovalov said his eyes were opened to the inequality by his girlfriend, WTA player Mirjam Bjorklund, who told him she would be receiving significantly less money, if she lost in the first round, than he would have done at an equivalent event.
“I’m not sure everyone realises how damaging this is for tennis. Tomorrow (Wednesday) is International Women’s Day, and I want to talk about the gender gap,” he wrote on The Players Tribune.
“It’s so unfair. It doesn’t make sense at all. And it matters, because the expenses are crazy in tennis: You travel all year, you stay in hotels, you pay your coaching staff. The big stars don’t have to worry about it, but many on the tour are struggling just to break even. For these players, prize money is not about getting a nice lump of extra cash. It’s about survival.
“Unfortunately, it seems that if you are a female player, your chances of surviving as a pro are a lot lower … because you are a woman.”
Shapovalov: “The numbers don’t make sense”
Shapovalov gave the example of Washington, where the men play an ATP 500 and the women a 250 level event at the same time, saying he took a photo of the packed stands when Bjorklund was playing Daria Saville.
It was packed,” he said. “The game was crazy intense. The quality was unbelievable. Saville won the third set in a tie break. The men were playing a 500 tournament there at the same time. The male winners in the first round got $14,280. Saville got $4,100.
“It’s less than a third! And fine, they are different tournaments, but even if you compare it to the ATP 250s, the numbers don’t make sense. That WTA 250 in D.C. had players like Jessica Pegula, who was top 10 in the world. The champ made $33,200. This may sound like a lot, but imagine how many years of hard work you need to win a tournament like that. It’s insane. Then compare it to men’s tennis. I made the final of the ATP 250 in Seoul last September. As a runner-up, I got $100,000. I mean, it’s not even close!”
Indian Wells, Miami, Madrid offer equal prize money
Though the ATP and WTA Tours are staging more joint events, prize money is not always equal.
The BNP Paribas Open in Indian Wells, which begins on Wednesday, Miami Open and Madrid all offer equal prize money. Rome, Cincinnati and Canada, where the players also play in the same week (albeit in different cities in Canada), all pay the men more than the women.
Only very occasionally, such as in Beijing, where the women’s event is a 1000 and the men’s a 500, do the women receive more than the men. More often than not, it’s the other way round.
The WTA’s announcement that venture capitalists CVC Capital are to take a 20 percent stake in the Tour means they will hope to increase prize money. Shapovalov said things need to change quickly.
“I’m happy that tennis has come such a long way since I was growing up,” he said. “It’s also promising to see that the WTA has just attracted more investment. But I don’t think we can be happy until it is completely equal for everyone.
“I’d like to see a tour where the tournaments are the same for women and men every week. Usually people are looking at the calendar going, Where are the women playing? Where are the men playing? It should just be the same.
“As for prize money, anything else but complete equality is not just unfair — it also blocks participation. If female players are not being treated fairly, some of those at the lower levels may find they can’t afford to continue. Potential stars will just quit.”