COLUMN: Tennis has a major scheduling problem which stunts growth of top women's stars

Tuesday, 04 June 2024 at 15:15
For too long, women's tennis has been majorly stunted with the growth being stalled due to a myriad of different reasons with poor TV coverage, prize money not being equal and in particular tournaments deciding against showing them faith when it comes to scheduling.
Roland Garros is the latest example of this issue that we delve into during this column piece with the tournament being seen as progressive due to Amelie Mauresmo being in charge. But in reality, men are picked time and again with very weak reasoning being given why WTA players shouldn't take Centre Stage.
Empty stadiums for their matches are seen as a huge reason why this is the case with Iga Swiatek v Naomi Osaka being pointed to. That match was the last Day Session tie on a day that also featured Jannik Sinner v Richard Gasquet. Whilst it is a tie for the French fans, it is not bigger than two four-time Grand Slam champions duelling and two that in reality put on the show of the tournament thus far. It left egg on the faces of organisers who relegated it to a graveyard slot.
The reasoning in reality for half full stadiums which is not really discussed is the fact that those on Court Philippe Chatrier have got their fill of tennis for the day in reality. Watching a three sets women's match and a five set men's match is bound to take it out of spectators. Especially if they are back for the Night Session. So like the opening match which struggles from similar issues, the WTA stars are given pretty weak reasoning for them being relegated and treated as second class.
For many watching the sport, the women's game provides a much more equal look. A lot of the time in recent years, it has been pretty drab men's matches which usually feature Novak Djokovic or Rafael Nadal winning one sided. Also it provides mayhem for the tournament who put these players on late then have to explain why they are playing until 3am. Case and point is Djokovic facing Musetti and he was playing until the early hours and by the time he would've slept it off and recovered, he was back playing Francisco Cerundolo again.
Another argument given is that for instance Iga Swiatek wins most of her matches fairly comfortably. But you don't take the same risk with the men. On paper, Novak Djokovic should win most of his matches in three sets. But nothing is a certainty and shouldn't be thus either in the women's game.
Iga Swiatek v Naomi Osaka was the match of the tournament but was relegated to finish a day session with excuses given why women don't take centre stage.
Iga Swiatek v Naomi Osaka was the match of the tournament but was relegated to finish a day session with excuses given why women don't take centre stage.
Over the course of the opening eight days, no woman has featured in the Night Session and given the way that the two tournaments are split, this is likely to continue with usually two men's matches and two women's. This gives them the pick of the ATP talent in order to populate the night session instead of being forced if they play all Quarter-Finals on one day for instance.
Even the highlights platform is an inferior product. Men's tennis gets Tennis TV offering comprehensive highlights, the WTA package is very short and often avoids certain moments due to unforced errors and double faults meaning that a full picture isn't painted. It is very much stunting their own product when it is already being given a rough deal. Often in the States, doubles even at times is preferred on Tennis Channel to the women's product. So whilst some of it is self sabotage, some of it is very much not giving a chance for a product to thrive and then complaining when the golden opportunities aren't taken.
Some would say too that the top female stars do it to themselves. Iga Swiatek has often said that she doesn't want to play in the night session and has been fairly vocal about that. She prefers despite being the top name in the sport to play during the day in order to keep her sleep schedule.
Elena Rybakina and Aryna Sabalenka before have made it pretty vocal about their resolution towards playing late after both stumbled into playing Night Sessions during rain delayed tournaments last year. This led in particular to the former playing back-to-back in Montreal and making heavy complaints about this issue. So part of it is that the WTA stars do make it easy for tournament directors to turn around and say that they don't need to put them on during the night. But if Novak Djokovic for instance decided he didn't want to play during the night, would he get the same wish.
Coco Gauff during this tournament has often been shown outside of makeable hours for Americans.
Coco Gauff during this tournament has often been shown outside of makeable hours for Americans.
For a product that in reality attracts more shocks, drama and also takes less time in the schedule due to the lesser sets format, it is written off time and again with Roland Garros being the case and point. Even for Coco Gauff, she has ben put on to open the day session often throughout this tournament. This is despite the US being asleep when she plays. This is the true showcase of the scheduling woes that women's tennis has to handle. Tennis has a major scheduling issue and it is stunting the growth of women's tennis. Excuses arise as a result why it doesn't grow. But without the platform to grow, it never will.
Equal prize money is on the way for most tournaments by 2025 much to the behest of some who think that due to them playing one less set to win that they shouldn't receive it. But whilst that mask gets put up as a good aspect of the tennis tour, the wider feeling is one which sees WTA stars short changed. As well as the fans of the tour who want to watch players either in person or online.
Whether that is poor court placing, early morning starts or not being able to watch any of the women's tournaments on a streaming platform. It is very much an issue which kind of manifests itself and shows the true problems amid the clamour about equal prize money. Nottingham for instance next week currently has no TV coverage confirmed. Whilst Stuttgart and 's-Hertogenbosch have different routes to watch. Very much systematic of not letting a side of the sport grow to a wider audience and giving excuses why it doesn't grow. Whether this changes, it remains to be seen. But in a world where women's sport has more of a spotlight than ever, tennis still remains in archaic times.

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