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Same set and match?

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Published on 29 June 2017

Anyone for tennis?
Anyone for tennis?

As the build up to Wimbledon gets underway the debate over women playing fewer sets than men in Grand Slam tennis has been raised once again by researchers who say the ‘unfair, outdated’ practice reinforces gender stereotypes and should be called out.

Currently women play the best of three-set-matches instead of five at major tournaments like men. Dr Paul Davis, who lecturers in the Sociology of Sports and Exercise in our Faculty of Health Sciences and Wellbeing, alongside Lisa Edwards, a senior lecturer at Cardiff Metropolitan University, argue that this is an equality issue upheld by false beliefs about women’s physical limitations and repressive femininity ideals.

The pair say the practice is ‘indefensible’, as there are no physical or psychological barriers to women completing 90-minutes of football, 80-minutes of rugby, 18-holes of golf, or 26-miles of competitive running. 

They also add that truncated Grand Slam tennis for women fuels arguments that they don't deserve the equal prize money at majors they fought long and successfully for, because they play fewer sets than men to win it. 

Their academic journal essay: Is it Defensible for Women to play Fewer Sets than men in Grand Slam tennis? highlights the need for a wider discussion in the sporting world. 

Dr Davis, who is Chair of the British Philosophy of Sport Association (BPSA), said: “The Grand Slam sex-based sets disparity is a cultural tradition which degrades women, as it reinforces a false stereotype of female incapacity and in turn a fast dying notion of femininity, which is starkly challenged by what women do on the tennis court and in other sports. It should be ended.

“The tradition is also unjust to male Grand Slam players, since it forces them to play more sets purely on the basis of their sex, in turn upholding an oppressive notion of masculinity, which is arguably in decline among men.

“The harmonisation of sets would be an example of sport ‘working itself’ pure’, and if it’s found that women are incapable of four or five sets, the exchange could be reversed.”

He added: “Finally, sets harmonisation could be accompanied by an end to the ritual playing of the women’s Singles final before the Men’s. The easy solution would be to alternate from year to year.”