As the debate around pay parity in sport rumbles on, one women’s tournament in China is offering the biggest prize money in the history of tennis (yes, that even includes the men’s tour).
This year’s Shiseido WTA Finals in Shenzhen will award its winner an eye-watering $4.75 million check if she manages to go the entire competition unbeaten.
The ATP finals, the equivalent competition on the men’s tour, only set aside $2.71 million for an undefeated champion last year – demonstrating the work being done to uphold equal pay in tennis.
Current world No. 1 Ashleigh Barty says the prize money is the “icing on the cake” as she thanked sponsors for staging such a lucrative competition.
“As tennis professionals, we are very fortunate to make a living from playing the sport we love, and to be rewarded so well for it is a real privilege,” Barty told CNN Sport, in a written statement.
“I also take my hat off to all the amazing players over the years who helped make tennis so popular with fans around the world.”
The WTA finals is the season-ending spectacle which brings together the eight best players on tour.
Competitors compete in two round robin groups and knockout rounds to be crowned the WTA champion.
Eight of the last 16 winners have gone undefeated, the latest being 2018 victor Elina Svitolina.
The players vying for the bumper prize are decided based on the Porsche Race rankings, with points accumulated from 53 WTA tournaments and the four grand slams.
All will be keen to claim a share of the $14 million prize purse which has been doubled from last year – thanks, in part, to the tournament’s new title sponsor, beauty company Shiseido.
All four of tennis’ grand slams now offer equal money to both its men’s and women’s singles champions, although it took until 2007 for Wimbledon to make the move.
However, this year’s WTA Finals can boast a more lucrative winner’s check than any of the major tournaments on the circuit.
Even if the eventual winner loses one of her group games, she will still walk away with $4,420,000 and should she lose two, she will claim $4,115,000.
It could also be a record breaking tournament for the women’s doubles champions – an undefeated duo will earn $1 million.
WTA chief executive Steve Simon says the prize money on offer is an indication of the significant growth of women’s tennis around the world.
“For five decades the WTA has been committed to equal pay and equal opportunity, beginning with the pioneering efforts of Billie Jean King and all of the ‘Original Nine,’” he said, in a written statement provided to CNN Sport.
The “Original Nine” were the group of women – King, Rosie Casals, Nancy Richey, Judy Dalton, Kerry Melville Reid, Julie Heldman, Peaches Bartkowicz, Kristy Pigeon and Valerie Ziegenfuss – who helped set up the Virginia Slims Circuit, which later became the WTA Tour.
“Working with the Gemdale Group in Shenzhen, we are excited to provide an unprecedented level of investment that supports the founding principles of the WTA,” added Simon.
“Not to be happy with the crumbs’
Despite the obvious step forward in terms of pay parity, many still feel the sport has a long way to go.
In 2016, Williams wrote an open letter calling for more equality in sport: “It frustrates me because I know firsthand that I, like you, have done the same work and made the same sacrifices as our male counterparts,” it read.
“I would never want my daughter to be paid less than my son for the same work. Nor would you.”
King, one of the pioneers of equality in tennis, also said female players must keep asking for more.
“Girls aren’t used to that. We’re told not to, from the time we’re born we’re told stay in the background, make sure you’re supportive,” she told CNN Sport.
“It’s important to also not be happy with the crumbs. It’s important that women have the cake the icing and the cherry on the top just like men. We should all be striving for that.”
The WTA Finals will begin on October 27 and run until November 3. It’s the first staging of Shenzhen’s 10-year tenure as host.
The first edition of the event was held back in 1972 with $25,000 going to the winner.