Women's tennis 'ready, willing and able' to go the distance for equal pay

Head of women's tennis says her players will play five-set matches if it will end the prize-money debate

Women's tennis No. 1 Serena Williams poses with her 2013 U.S. Open trophy after defeating Victoria Azarenka on Sept. 8.
Al Bello/Getty Images

Volleying back at Andy Murray, the latest male tennis star to weigh in on the sport's equal-prize-money controversy, the head of the Women's Tennis Association (WTA) said Tuesday that the world's best women players are prepared to, like men, play best-of-five-set matches at premier events.

"Ready, willing and able -- all you have to do is ask us," WTA CEO Stacey Allaster told Agence France Press in an interview.

Allaster's comments were seen as a response to men's No. 2 Andy Murray's suggestion that the women earn their equal pay at the majors by playing longer matches, as the men do. Murray is the latest player to voice his opinion on the debate over whether women, who spend less time on court at the Grand Slams, deserve the same prize money.

"I think either the men go three sets or the women go five sets," he said in an interview with The New York Times during this year's U.S. Open. "I think that's more what the guys tend to complain about rather than the equal prize money itself."

Allaster added that the women's tour wasn't set on changing to longer matches but implied that if a change was necessary to justify equal pay, the women were not afraid of the challenge.

"Three sets works well for us, but we've always said we're ready, willing and able to play five if that's what the Grand Slams want."

As for why the switch to longer matches had not yet been made, Allaster responded, "you would have to ask" the Grand Slam tournaments why they had not invited women to play longer matches.

The International Tennis Federation, which administers the four Grand Slams, in Melbourne, Paris, London and New York, did not immediately provide a response to Allaster's comments.

This week marks the 40th anniversary of tennis' Battle of the Sexes, in which women's tennis legend Billie Jean King bested former men's pro Bobby Riggs before a televised audience of 90 million people.

King was a pioneer for the women's game, which only recently obtained equal prize money at the Grand Slam tournaments. It was not until 2007 that the French Open and Wimbledon, the last holdouts among the four Grand Slams, announced equal prize money for the women's side.

Since then, a series of public statements from top male pros has stirred the pot. Big names, from retired American Andy Roddick to Murray, have weighed in on the subject.

Last year, top French player Gilles Simon commented that the men deserved greater pay because they provided fans with more entertainment.

"I'm sure there are a few more people that watch my matches than his," Maria Sharapova, a four-time Grand Slam champion and one of the sport's most popular athletes, fired back during a press conference.

Allaster qualified her comments, however, noting that already densely packed schedules -- 254 singles matches alone are played during a Grand Slam fortnight -- might make longer women's matches at Grand Slams impractical.

"It would take a lot longer to have our matches if it were five sets," Allaster said, when questioned why women had not been asked to play longer matches.

Next week Chinese star Li Na will take on the No. 1 male player in the world, Novak Djokovic, ahead of the China Open in Beijing.

For his part, Murray has also commented that he would be willing to play women's No. 1 Serena Williams in an exhibition match.

"That would be fun," Williams responded. "I doubt I"d win a point, but that would be fun."

Al Jazeera and wire services

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