Every time Wimbledon comes around, one question that's always raised is why do women play 3 set matches while the men play 5 sets? Seems like a reasonable question..?
Well, it *is* a reasonable question, which became even more pertinent when the prize money for the women was raised to the same level as that for the men.
I've written about equality in sport many times, from the boat race, to the marathon, which have been solved, to the decathlon which hasn't, and in my mind this tennis question sits fair and square in the 'hasn't been solved' group.
So, why do women only play 3 sets? Surely it doesn't go back to the crusty old thing about men deciding that women aren't capable? Well, sort of, but not really - men's and women's tennis are run by separate organisations (following a revolution started by women players), so they are hardly like to hold such a nonsense sexist view.
No, the real reason is down to more pragmatic reasons, although I believe the solution could be equally as pragmatic.
For starters, let's remember that the men only play 3 sets themselves outside the 4 Grand Slam events. This is where the pragmatic reasons come in - scheduling and money, framed in the boundaries of TV scheduling.
Take Wimbledon, for example. Held over 2 weeks, it's always a bit of a jam to get everything in, and that's not even accounting for the rain breaks which are a usual feature at some point in the fortnight.
The argument is that the Grand Slam organisers do not want to have to add to that burden by lengthening the women's matches to the same 5 sets that the men play.
It's also argued that pretty much every sport nowadays is looking to have shorter formats, to be more consumable for people watching on TV.
Hmm. While these are both truisms, I'm not sure either is a reason that could not be dealt with.
If we take the argument about shorter formats of sport for TV, well part of the appeal of the men's 5 setters is precisely because it *is* the longer format, which combined with the scoring system in tennis, can make for gripping drama as the momentum swings back and forth between the players, and a player seemingly on the ropes can come all the way back to win.
You do get that occasionally in the women's game, but it's more noticeable when it happens, just because it does happen so rarely, and that's because the 3 set format doesn't lend itself to that kind of outcome. So, the 5 set match is actually more of a sellable product than the 3 setter.
As for the argument of logistics - nope, I'm not having that one either!
Wimbledon has the full range of events, men's and women's doubles, mixed doubles, juniors for both sexes, and wheelchair events which they are rolling out even more.
They don't need to have all those formats, and if something had to give in order to accommodate the women playing 5 sets, then so be it, in my view.
Back in 2013 the head of women's tennis said she was happy for the women to play 5 sets, they were just waiting to be asked by the Grand Slams.
That seems a cop out to me. How about if they sent an email to the 4 Grand Slam organisations, and said that in 5 years time they expected all of them to be the 5 set format, or they would ban their members from taking part?
If they then made one of their tour events a 5 setter to see how it went, although the legal wrangling would no doubt have lawyers rubbing their hands, I suspect the momentum for the Slams to then go to 5 sets would be unstoppable.
About time too, and the perennial question could finally be moved to the 'solved' column!
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