No tennis is played on Middle Sunday at Wimbledon. A day of rest for the players and the courts gives the tournament room to breathe. It is one of the Wimbledon traditions like strawberries and cream that feels like it is from another age; that enhances the elegance of the oldest and most prestigious grand slam. The following day, Manic Monday, on which all 32 players remaining in the mens and women’s singles draw face off for spots in the quarterfinals, is always a scheduling nightmare. It is impossible to please all fans, and even those of us who can turn on a dozen live streams are left with our eyes darting from one show-stopping match to another. Do I watch Raonic vs. Zverev or Nadal vs. Muller? Certainly I already know the outcome of Djokovic vs. Mannarino so maybe I’ll catch Kerber vs. Muguruza instead. Trade offs must be made. This is all part of the glory and sorrow of tennis fandom. However, the scheduling decisions that Wimbledon, as an institution, makes when under pressure, are telling.
For the first time since 2011, all four members of the big four are into the second week at Wimbledon. One of these four men has hoisted the trophy every year since 2002, but they have not all consistently performed at the highest level during Wimbledon’s first week. (An odd stat to note: it is only Andy Murray who has made the quarterfinals or better every year since 2011.) The opponents that the big four have defeated at the 2017 tournament have been varied, but only two of the big four have had to switch courts in the first week of play. Three time champion Novak Djokovic and two time champion Rafael Nadal have both played matches on Court 1 while Roger Federer, who can rightfully feel as though Centre Court at Wimbledon is his second home, and Murray, for whom this is literally his home slam, have played all of their matches on Centre Court. The reasoning for this choice is obvious: these are the two biggest ticket draws. That does not make it any more fair to the two exceptional players – who have 27 grand slam titles between them – who end up bouncing from court to court.
The true disparity in court assignments comes into sharper focus when looking at where the top women have played. Without Serena Williams and Maria Sharapova in the draw, there are fewer widely known standout stars on the women’s side. The depth of the field and the skill of top women’s players is not, however, magically diminished by the absence of these two marketable competitors. If anything, the draw is more open and the potential for exciting matches and unforeseen upsets is more likely. Wimbledon also has the unique opportunity of providing a platform to the rising stars of the women’s game. The tournament has, however, stuck rigidly to outdated, sexist scheduling practices. The two show courts, Centre Court and Court 1, have been reserved for two men’s matches and one women’s match per day for the first week of the tournament. This means that, to date, Venus Williams, the biggest name in the women’s draw, a five-time former champion, and a semifinalist last year, did not play on Centre Court during the first week. On Manic Monday, Garbine Muguruza, a former Wimbledon finalist and French Open Champion won a thrilling, hotly contested three set match against current world number one Angelique Kerber on Court 2. The closest Jelena Ostapenko, recently crowned French Open champion, former Wimbledon juniors champion and future star of the women’s game, has gotten to the show courts is a single match on Court 2.
The argument from the tournament’s (and some fan’s) perspective is that more people want to see Federer, Nadal, Djokovic, and Murray so they get top booking. As a Federer fan, I want to watch him play on Centre Court all day every day, but I understand why this is both not possible and not right. The marketability argument is based on the name recognition of the players and not the potential quality of matches. There is also the question of how top women’s players are supposed to gain broad name recognition and widespread fan support when they are not regularly put on the main show courts. Comparing the current world number ones, both of whom have underperformed since attaining that position: Angelique Kerber played two of her four matches on Court 2, one on Court 1 and one on Centre, and Andy Murray played all of his on Centre Court. Admittedly he is British, but that does not account for such a pronounced disparity.
As a tennis fan, I often feel powerless when the game moves in a direction I do not approve. When my favorite player is underperforming I cannot magically wish away his injury or expect anything to come of writing him a letter detailing what I think he should change in his game. Wimbledon’s scheduling, however, is an instance where fan input can have a real impact. The reasons Wimbledon schedules matches the way they do are 1) because this is how it has traditionally been done and 2) the tournament management assumes the current situation is what fans want. It is up to us, as dedicated supporters of tennis, to let Wimbledon know that we want women players to have equal time on the top courts. Tweet to Wimbledon. Write them on facebook. Write them via the contact form on their website. Point out how unfairly a competitor like Venus Williams has been treated. Argue for Jelena Ostapenko to be put on Centre Court. Incidentally, if the upcoming quarterfinal between these two women isn’t on Centre Court, it’ll be a whole other reason to write. Make sure the tournament organizers don’t get away with treating women’s players as inferior or less worthy of the spotlight. These women train as hard as the men, practice for as many hours, pour just as much of their heart and soul into the game they love. They should be given the same stage on which to shine.