Closing The Gap

The US Open awards men and women equal prize money—but tennis still has a pay gap

Bianca Andreescu of Canada poses with the trophy after her US Open Championships women's singles final match against Serena Williams (not seen) of USA at Billie Jean King National Tennis Center in New York, United States on September 7, 2019.
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At the 2019 U.S. Open, a total of $57.2 million was awarded to players, with the largest sum going to the singles champs. 

Bianca Andreescu, a first-time U.S. Open competitor, defeated Serena Williams in the women's final match on Saturday; Rafael Nadal defeated Daniil Medvedev in the men's final match on Sunday. They took home equal prize money for their respective wins: $3.85 million, each.

It hasn't always been this way. Though men and women tennis players are awarded equal prize money in today's U.S. Open matches, it wasn't until legendary tennis champ Billie Jean King threatened to boycott the U.S. Open in 1973 that men and women finally received equal pay for their U.S. Open wins.

Billie Jean King
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According to ESPN, the U.S. Open was the first of four major tennis tournaments to award men and women equal prize money. The oldest tennis tournament in the sport's history, Wimbledon, didn't pay men and women equally until 2007.

Venus Williams was a vocal advocate for pay equality at the tournament. The day before the 2005 Wimbledon final, Williams says she asked Grand Slam board members to "think about their daughters and their wives and sisters. How would they like them to be treated?" Less than two years later, Wimbledon announced that men and women would receive the same prize money in all rounds of the tournament.

Outside of the Grand Slam events, The New York Times reports that the annual prize money for the top 100 earners in the Women's Tennis Association (WTA) is roughly 80 cents to every dollar earned by the top 100 men in the Association of Tennis Professionals (ATP). And at some ATP and WTA tournaments, where men's and women's matches are sold under the same ticket, the pay disparity is even greater. At the 2015 Western & Southern Open in Ohio, Serena Williams was paid $495,000 for winning the women's tournament title while Roger Federer was paid $731,000.

Serena Williams at the 2019 US Open.
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But the equivalent prize money that men and women receive at Grand Slam events still puts tennis ahead of other leagues and associations in terms of equality. In the NBA, each player on the championship team received roughly $240,000 this year for their win. That's significantly more than the $11,000 ESPN reports WNBA players receive for winning a championship.

In soccer, 28 members of the U.S. women's national soccer team filed a lawsuit in March against the U.S. Soccer Federation (USSF) for wage discrimination. According to the lawsuit, if the men's and women's teams won each of the 20 non-tournament games they're contractually expected to play, the women's team players would earn a maximum of $99,000, while the men's team players would earn $263,320. That's despite the fact women's games generating approximately $50.8 million in revenue between 2016 and 2018, compared to the men's games generating $49.9 million.

Last year, the Williams sisters joined the advisory board of the Billie Jean King Leadership Initiative to address the wage disparity not only in sports, but in all industries. "The two of them have transcended sports," King told USA Today. "The BJKLI is not about sports. It's about every industry. To try to get equal pay for equal work, and that means across the board, from CEOs down to entry level."

King, whose fight for equal pay spans more than 40 years, told CNBC last year that women banding together to fight pay disparites is just one step to fixing the problem — more men to step up and fight for change as well.

"We need the men," she said. "They are in charge most of the time and if they don't step up, it's not going to happen."

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