Friendly rivals Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal have joined the ongoing debate about equal prize money in tennis after Serena Williams put the issue into focus yet again at the Australian Open.
Williams renewed calls for men and women to get equal prize money on Saturday, claiming women are still fighting for equal pay at lower-tier events outside of the Grand Slams.
“We still are fighting for equal prize money at all events across the board. I think that’s something that we’re going to continue to do, continue to fight for,” she said, according to 9News.
While the prize money for male and female players at Grand Slam events are the same, that’s not the case across other Association of Tennis Professionals and Women’s Tennis Association (WTA) competitions.
Now, tennis legends Federer and Nadal have spoken out on the issue. Federer weighed in on the debate after he crashed out of the Australian Open on Sunday night in a shock defeat to rising star Stefanos Tsitsipas.
“When I fought for equal prize money for the men’s game, I knew it was a dollar for a dollar also for the women’s game going up. I was really, really happy for them,” he said. “They deserve it. They also deserve it on the other tour, on the WTA Tour. I know they’re lagging a little bit. That would be nice to see it going up.
He added: “If we can help, great. Sometimes maybe the men’s game is a bit more popular, sometimes the women’s game. I think we should always help each other as players regardless of who’s more popular at the moment.”
Meanwhile Nadal, who won his quarter-finals match on Sunday, said female players deserve to win more prize money than their male counterparts, provided they draw greater ticket sales.
Speaking at his post-match media conference on Sunday, Nadal said: “I feel that they can win as much as they want. Is not about equal or not equal prize money. I don’t care if they win more than us. That’s the real thing.
“If they sell more tickets than what we sell tickets, they deserve to more than us. That’s very easy to understand. It’s not about being male or women. Doesn’t matter. We are the same. If they sell more than us, they have to win more than us.”
Equal pay within the tennis profession has been a hot topic long before Williams raised the matter. Billie Jean King famously left the main women’s tour in 1970 and signed a $1 contract to join the Virginia Slims Circuit founded by magazine publisher Gladys Heldman to protest against inequality in prize money for men and women. She went on to start the Women’s Tennis Association in 1973 and convinced the US Open to offer equal prize money to female and male competitors.
Nowadays, all Grand Slams offer players equal prize money, but there is still disparity during regular tournaments on the tour.