Women on equal footing at French Open

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Now that golf has played its first two “Majors,” it’s time for tennis to do likewise as the French Open, the second of the sport’s Grand Slam, begins play Sunday on the red clay at Roland Garros.

Who will be holding the trophies come June 9? It would be foolish to bet against Rafael Nadal, who has won this tournament an amazing 11 times as part of his 17 Grand Slam victories. The 32-year-old Spaniard is even money at the Westgate Las Vegas SuperBook to make it an even dozen and this is an event Nadal points to annually.

He just beat Novak Djokovic Sunday in the final tuneup for the French at Rome. And while you may like the Djoker’s chances of turning the tables two weeks hence, you’re only getting 9-4 odds from the SuperBook that he will.

On paper, the women’s side is a little more up for grabs. Defending champ Simona Halep is the 4-1 favorite but that tells you it’s no lock. Naomi Osaka, who had her breakout campaign last year with her win at the U.S. Open, is 10-1 to prevail in Paris. Serena Williams, assuming she’s right, is 12-1. Yeah, she’s 37. Yeah, she’s come close to that 24th Slam title. Yeah she’s prevailed three times at the French, the most recent coming in 2015. But she can be in the hunt until the end.

Now that we’ve gotten the handicapping out of the way, this year’s tournament takes on a little extra meaning for Parisians. The recent fire at the Notre Dame cathedral is still fresh in their minds. It is an international treasure and part of Paris’ soul.

For France, this was a punch to the gut, one of several the country has absorbed the past few years. Acts of terrorism. Political and religious unrest. An economic downturn. All have made life in that country much different.

Sports has always had a way of healing communities, of bringing people together. And while you can point to tennis as a somewhat elitist sport, the fact is the French Open is a huge part of the country’s athletic menu.

It will be the same in a couple of weeks when the Women’s World Cup soccer tournament kicks off. The U.S. will likely be favored (they were 2-1 at the Westgate) and Brazil, Germany and Japan figure to be challenging the American gals for the title. But the home side will likely put forth a huge effort and chants of “Allez, France!” will echo throughout the stadium when they take to the pitch.

Women’s sports are still struggling to catch on in this country. And while the WNBA has made it through some trying times and has lost tens of millions of dollars, it is still in business. But women’s pro soccer has had a couple of failed attempts. Women’s pro ice hockey has struggled to gain a foothold and it has hampered the attempt to grow the game among girls in the U.S.

The LPGA’s purses are on the rise, which is good news. The least lucrative event is $1.3 million. Next month’s U.S. Open is $5 million. 

Women boxers and mixed martial arts fighters don’t generate the paydays their male counterparts do.

And even though it has been nearly 50 years since Title IX went on the books to give women equal opportunities, and despite significant growth for women’s sports in high schools and colleges, that next level, the one where a female can make a nice living playing sports, doesn’t really exist in this country.

It’s why women’s basketball players opt to play overseas to help supplement their WNBA salaries, where the average was $71,635 in 2017 and went up to $110,000 last year. Consider the starting salary for an NBA referee is $150,000 and you can understand why the WNBA players are planning to opt out of their collective bargaining agreement at the end of the upcoming 2019 season which tips off this weekend.

In tennis, things tend to be more equitable, at least in the Slams. The French Open men’s and women’s champion will each receive $2.62 million, an increase of eight percent from last year.

It’ll be the same at Wimbledon — equal pay for equal play, as well as at Flushing Meadows come August for the U.S. Open. Billie Jean King, the tennis Hall of Famer who has led the fight for equality for women in sports her entire life, is no doubt pleased that her sport did right by women. But she remains disappointed that other sports are failing when it comes to paying women a decent if not equal wageto what men earn.

In the late 1960s, there was a cigarette called Virginia Slims that catered to women. The advertising campaign, back when you were still allowed to advertise cigarettes on TV, was “You’ve Come A Long Way, Baby.” It even sponsored a women’s pro tennis tour in the 1970s that King helped form and played in.

And while it’s safe to say female  athletes have come a long way in sports since the early ‘70s, it’s also safe to say they unfortunately still have a long way to go. Just ask any women’s pro hockey player.

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About the Author

Steve Carp

Steve Carp is a six-time Nevada Sportswriter of the Year. A 30-year veteran of the Las Vegas sports journalism scene, he covered the Vegas Golden Knights for the Las Vegas Review-Journal from 2015-2018.

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