Equal pay in tennis has been thrust back onto the debate stage over the past few days, sparked by sexist comments from Raymond Moore, the since-resigned Indian Wells tournament director, and furthered by statements from top-ranked men’s player, Novak Djokovic.
Moore said that women’s tennis rides “on the coattails” of the men’s game, and should “go down every night on [their] knees” to thank God for players like Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal. Djokovic said that while he respects women for fighting for equal pay, he thinks that men should earn more now because more people watch their matches.
While Serena Williams and Indian Wells champion Victoria Azarenka both spoke out against Moore’s offensive comments, those in men’s tennis were relatively silent. That is until Tuesday, when world No. 2 Andy Murray weighed in on the conversation.
“I think there should be equal pay, 100 percent, at all combined events,” the two-time major champion said.
While tennis is generally heralded for its equality, the ATP, the governing body of men's tennis, has a long history of refusing to join forces with the women's tour, and there have always been male tennis players vocally against equal pay.
But Murray is a rare breed — a top male tennis player who legitimately respects the women's game, without asterisks. Two years ago he hired a female coach, two-time Slam champion Amelie Mauresmo, and he touts Martina Navratilova as the greatest tennis player of all time. He even calls himself a feminist.
Murray took those sentiments a step further this week, however, when he unequivocally backed the women's players and called out those on the men's side who still don't think they should be paid equally.
"One of the things Novak said was that if women are selling more seats and tickets they should make more but at a tournament like this, for example, if Serena is playing on centre court and you have a men's match with [Sergiy] Stakhovsky playing, people are coming to watch Serena.
"The crowds are coming to watch the women as well. The whole thing just doesn't stack up — it changes on a day-to‑day basis depending on the matches you get."
Murray likely brought up Stakhovsky, a Ukranian tennis player ranked No. 115, because Stakhovsky is a member of the ATP Player's Council and has been an extremely outspoken opponent of equal pay.
Stakhovsky clearly took issue with Murray, who pointed in his interview that at Wimbledon, British women's tennis player Laura Robson draws many more fans than Stakhovsky does. The two took to Twitter on Tuesday to debate the issue.
@Stako_tennis as soon as we leave uk territory more people are watching you than Laura? Really?
— Andy Murray (@andy_murray) March 23, 2016
@Stako_tennis I played you in a Davis cup match in Ukraine and there must have been a thousand people there max!
— Andy Murray (@andy_murray) March 23, 2016
@Around_ThePost lol I'm a bit confused by how I became involved but I'd rather not go to Kiev.
— Laura Robson (@laurarobson5) March 23, 2016
Those against equal pay, including Djokovic, bring up the fact that men's tennis often gets better ratings right now, primarily due to the popularity of its biggest stars. But Murray rightly pointed out that female stars — the Williams sisters, Martina Navratilova, Chris Evert, and Steffi Graf — have been just as important to the popularity of the sport.
“Men’s tennis has been lucky over the last nine or 10 years with the players they’ve had, the rivalries which have come out of that. That’s great but the whole of tennis should capitalize on that — not just the men’s game," he said.
"Why does someone ranked 70 in the world deserve to capitalize on what they're doing just because they're a man?" Murray asked. "When tennis does well, everyone should thrive on that success."
"When Serena Williams does great, we also capitalize on that. Someone who's 70 in the world on the men's tour also capitalizes on that."
In addition to serving as a much-needed counter to the tepid or offensive responses coming from the men's tennis world, Murray's comments are so significant because the impact of unequal pay resonates far beyond sports — and male allies can make a huge difference when it comes to bridging the wage gap, as men in other industries have showcased.
Just in the past year, Marc Benioff, the CEO of Salesforce, started a Women’s Surge program aimed at eliminating the gender wage gap. Bradley Cooper also recently started negotiating for equal pay alongside his female co-stars after finding out how little Jennifer Lawrence and Amy Adams made for their work in American Hustle.
“I don’t know where it’s changing otherwise but that’s something that I could do,” Cooper said. “Usually you don’t talk about the financial stuff, you have people. But you know what? It’s time to start doing that.”
While tennis does have equal pay at majors and a few joint events such as Indian Wells, it does not have equal pay at combined events across the board. Hopefully voices like Murray's can help fix that.