As Caroline Wozniacki suggested on Monday, the topic of gender inequality in scheduling at Wimbledon feels like an age-old question here at the All England Club.
Over the seven days of play so far this fortnight, there have been two men’s matches and one women’s scheduled each day on Centre Court, and that has also been the case for Court No. 1 for five of the seven days.
This issue always becomes more obvious on the second Monday of the tournament – dubbed ‘Manic Monday’ – because Wimbledon chooses to have all men’s and women’s last-16 matches scheduled on the same day, due to the fact they have no match play on ‘Middle Sunday’.
And while no one can argue that having 16 fourth round matches to schedule in one day is not a headache, the choices made by the referee, in discussion with the club chiefs and others, tend to be real head-scratchers.
Scheduling the match between world No1 and 2016 runner-up Angelique Kerber and 2015 runner-up Garbine Muguruza, on Court No. 2 was a bizarre decision, and it looked even worse when the two women played their hearts out in a two-hour 18-minute battle of top-quality tennis.
The commitment the decision-makers continue to have to the 2:1 ratio in favour of the men is staggering and the response seems to always be the same.
In 2016, All England Club chief executive Richard Lewis said: “It’s not about men and women, it’s about what are the marquee matches.”
On Monday, a year later, he chose the exact same words when talking to the press: “I wouldn’t say it’s favouritism. I would say it’s taking the marquee matches.”
It’s expected that he is this prepared with the same answer, since gender inequality in scheduling arises as a controversy almost every year.
Wimbledon schedules three matches on Centre Court starting at 13:00 and Andy Murray suggested on Monday that a solution would be to have four matches instead, and start a little earlier, that would accommodate two matches for each singles draw. Overusing the Centre Court grass however could be an issue.
The point is not necessarily about having an equal number of matches for each draw, but it’s about treating them with the same respect so that a compelling women’s match is not ignored.
The problem with constantly putting women’s matches on the peripheral courts is that their best product is never showcased on the main stadiums, which means fewer people will get acquainted with the players. You can’t brand these women’s matches as non-marquee contests when you are part of the reason they are being seen that way.
It’s important that leading voices on the women’s tour speak out about such issues because not enough is being done about it.
Angelique Kerber on Monday was far from scathing in her comments but at least she admitted she was “really surprised” to be scheduled on Court No. 2.
The 20-year-old Jelena Ostapenko, who won Roland Garros last month and hasn’t lost a Grand Slam match since, also said she expected to be on a court more prominent than No. 12.
Many other female players however choose to avoid the topic and say they don’t mind playing anywhere. That is, of course, their prerogative. But it’s also not helping the situation. When stats and facts show that men are playing twice as many matches on Centre Court than the women, pretending it’s not an issue is hurtful to the women’s game.
It may feel like a futile argument to some, but opening it up for debate is better than staying silent.
Top seed Angelique Kerber admits she was “really surprised” to be scheduled on Court No. 2 for her marquee fourth round against Garbine Muguruza, as the issue of gender inequality in scheduling at Wimbledon once again came to the fore on Monday.
Kerber and Muguruza, both former Wimbledon finalists, produced a remarkable high-quality affair that was not scheduled on one of the two main courts at the All England Club – Centre Court and Court No. 1.
The tournament has been scheduling two men’s matches and one women’s on Centre Court every day of the event so far, and has followed the same format for Court No 1 on five of the seven days of play.
It is a recurring issue at Wimbledon and Kerber suggested she might even talk to organisers about it.
“To be honest, I was really surprised that I was playing on Court No. 2, yes. But, yeah, I mean, the schedule was out then. Yeah, what can I do? I was going out, trying to play good match on Court No. 2. I played a lot of matches there,” said Kerber, who lost 4-6, 6-4, 6-4 in a two-hour, 20-minute tussle with Muguruza on Monday.
“Yeah, still it was a good feeling to be playing on this court, as well.”
‘Manic Monday’, which is the second Monday at Wimbledon and features all fourth round matches from the men’s and women’s draws, tends to provide a scheduling headache for organisers, but the theme of placing twice as many men’s matches than women’s on Centre Court has been consistent all tournament.
“I think we played good match. I think it was a good match from both of us, on a high level. Yeah, I was actually looking forward to playing on one of the two big courts,” said Kerber of her clash with 2015 runner-up Muguruza.
Kerber was asked if it’s important to speak up about such an issue, that is inevitably hurtful to the women’s game, preventing it from showcasing it’s best product on the show courts. The German two-time major champion said: “Yeah, I mean, I think we will see. Maybe I will talk to them, as well.
“I think it’s, like I said, not my decision. I don’t know, they discussing the schedule before the matches, and I know it’s always not so easy. There are a lot of good players right now, they are playing on Monday. I respect everybody.
“Of course I was surprised. This is what I can tell you. But at the end, yeah, it’s not at the end my decision, you know.”
Reigning French Open champion Jelena Ostapenko was exiled to Court No. 12 while playing against the No4 seed Elina Svitolina. Ostapenko has so far been scheduled on Court No. 12 twice, Court No. 18 once, and Court. No. 2 once.
The 20-year-old Ostapenko voiced her opinion on the matter, saying: “I think I deserve to play on a better court than Court 12, I guess.
“I mean, yes (I was surprised). Also, Elina is No4 in the world. I think our match was a very interesting match for the people to watch. They put us on Court 12. Is still good. I mean, has the Hawk-Eye. But I thought we would play on a bigger court.”
She next faces five-time champion Venus Williams in the quarter-finals and will probably be placed on one of the big courts for the first time this tournament.
Richard Lewis, the All England Club chief executive, dismissed there’s been any bias against the women.
“I wouldn’t say it’s favouritism. I would say it’s taking the marquee matches,” he told reporters on Monday.
“It’s not about male/female, in the end it’s about which matches you feel the public and broadcasters most of all want to see.”
Former world No1 Caroline Wozniacki admits this has been a continuous problem at Wimbledon and that it was more evident here compared to the other majors.
“I think that’s something we’ve talked about at Wimbledon for the last 10 years. It’s been the same for 10 years straight. I think the other Grand Slams are more equal, positioning of men’s and women’s matches, whereas here there’s always two men’s and one women’s on Centre Court. Most days, as well, there’s more men’s matches on Court 1, too. It is what it is. I play wherever they put me basically,” said the Dane, following her fourth round exit to Coco Vandeweghe.
Williams, who opened play on Centre Court on Monday, explains that ‘Manic Monday’ scheduling has always been tricky for organisers, but that “I’m sure that the women, we would want more matches on Centre or Court No. 1 over the whole fortnight.”
Jelena Ostapenko won her 11th consecutive Grand Slam match in the Wimbledon fourth round on Monday with a straight-sets win over No4 seed Elina Svitolina, who predicts the Latvian’s game will break down sooner or later.
Ostapenko, who made a stunning run to the French Open title last month to capture her first tour-level trophy, has been in fierce form, with no signs of slowing down. The 20-year-old needed eight match points to close out a 6-3, 7-6 (6) win over Svitolina and next faces five-time champion Venus Williams in the quarter-finals.
Svitolina, who was playing her first Wimbledon fourth round, expects Ostapenko to feel the pressure of her sudden rise later in the season.
“Well, it’s normal, because she has lots of confidence now. She won lots of matches. It will be interesting to see, you know, when she will struggle a bit later in the year and stuff, how she gonna play. Because I know her couple of years already. So I know how she can play. There is some bad times in her game, as well,” said the Ukrainian after her loss.
“Now she played brilliant game and match. And, yeah, it’s nothing really to say. I did my best. I fought until the end, and those few points that she made the winner like unbelievable angle, you know, is not much I could do.”
The last time a maiden Grand Slam winner reached the quarter-finals in the next major was Kim Clijsters, who claimed her first Slam at the 2005 US Open then reached the semis in the 2006 US Open.
Ostapenko has hit a total of 121 winners so far this tournament, averaging 30.25 winners per match.
Ostapenko has been displaying fearless tennis at the important moments but against Svitolina, she let a 6-3, 5-3, 40/15 lead slip before she closed out the match in a tiebreak. The seemingly nerveless youngster admits she suffered a brief lapse in her resolve at that moment in the contest.
“Today I was a little bit nervous because I was, like, 6-3, 5-3 up, 40-15 and serving. I didn’t serve so well. So after that, I was a little bit nervous because I also was 6-5, 30-Love down, and she was serving,” said Ostapenko. “I’m glad that I fought and won the match.”