How to make women's tennis more competitive and exciting
Ahead of the French Open a new study suggests lowering the net and playing with smaller balls.
As the French Open begins this weekend you may find that the men's side is more competitive than the women's, where stars like Serena Williams tend to dominate the field year-in-and-year-out.
Now a recent study published in the Journal of Sports Economics suggests that changes should be made in women's tennis to compensate for the disparity.
It's not unheard of. Many sports tweak regulations to make women's sports more competitive. For example, women's basketballs are smaller than men's, and female lacrosse players must use sticks with a shallower pocket to dislodge the ball more easily.
"Lowering court nets and playing with lighter tennis balls to accommodate physiological differences would help make women's matches more competitive, with scores closer to the men's," said Dr. Mosi Rosenboim, of Ben-Gurion University of the Negev (BGU) in Israel, one of the researchers who conducted the study along with several Israeli colleagues.
The researchers came to their conclusion after studying 3,844 men’s sets and 3,034 women’s sets, finding that men’s scores were closer. For instance, when Novak Djokovic beat Rafael Nadal in the men’s final of the 2012 Australian Open with a score of 5-7, 6-4, 6-2, 6-7, 7-5, the match lasted nearly six hours. The day before, Victoria Azarenka defeated Maria Sharapova 6-3, 6-0 in 1 hour and 22 minutes.
In another analysis, they studied 24 top men's and 23 top women's singles tournaments of the 2010 season. What they found was that men's matches were consistently closer (6-4, 7-5), than women's sets, with lopsided scores (6-2, 6-1) often being the outcome.
“The set-level analysis indicates that physical power, not competitiveness, is responsible for the different number of games per set,” said Dr. Offer Moshe Shapir, an Israeli researcher who's currently at New York University in Shanghai.
Interestingly, when researchers re-evaluated the 2010 tournaments and controlled for physical characteristics, such as height and body mass index, the gender gap in final scores completely disappeared.
“It’s a much-debated subject in the tennis world,” the researchers stated. “Level of competitiveness is one of the most important factors in the sports industry, where uncertain outcomes generate more interest from fans and higher ticket sales. This argument also contributes to an earnings gap between professional female and male tennis players.”
In fact, the Women's Tennis Association (WTA) has begun to use balls with regular-duty felt – as opposed to extra-duty felt used by the men – which can speed up the ball, but the size and weight are still the same.
"If no changes are made, playing on the same court makes men's and women's tennis a completely different game," Rosenboim said.
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