Golden Gate Open Setting New Standard for Gender Equity in Tennis
Tennis has been blazing trails in sports for a long time.
Over 70 years ago, Althea Gibson dominated the women's game in the 1950s as the first Black tennis star. In the 1970s, Billie Jean King showed Bobby Riggs that women could do more than just compete with men. They could beat them. And Venus and Serena Williams pushed for equality in the 2000s.
Now advancing gender equity continues with the Golden Gate Open, a new tournament in Palo Alto, California, that will offer equal prize money for men and women competitors.
The inaugural Golden Gate Open will be played Aug. 12-19 at the Taube Tennis Center on the campus of Stanford University and is the first 125-level event (the sport’s second-highest tier on the Challenger Tour) to offer equal prize money for men and women.
The Golden Gate Open also is the first-ever combined ATP/WTA men’s and women’s pro tournament in Northern California.
All of this is great news for tennis.
"Growing up in Northern California, I was inspired by watching professional tennis events here in the Bay Area," tournament founder and CEO Pablo Pires de Almeida told The Press Democrat. "I wondered why there wasn’t a combined professional tournament in Northern California."
The Golden Gate Open came together with the support of Stanford men's tennis head coach Paul Goldstein and assistant coach Brandon Coupe and Stanford women's tennis head coach Lele Forood, along with the Association of Tennis Professionals (ATP) and Women's Tennis Association (WTA) pro tours.
Former top 5 men's singles player Kei Nishikori from Japan is confirmed to play at the Golden Gate Open, and the Challenger-level tournament expects more talented men and women players to commit soon.
A Path Toward Equal Opportunity for All Players
The timing could not be better for a unique pro tennis event of this caliber.
On June 27, the WTA announced a new tour structure with a pathway toward equal prize money for women players with men at all top-level events by 2033. Equal pay for women tennis players is a goal envisioned 50 years ago when Billie Jean King founded the WTA.
"Fifty years after the players found strength in unity, I’m proud the WTA continues to be a global leader focused on providing opportunities, and hope that women in other sports and walks of life are inspired by its example,” WTA founder King said in a statement.
The ATP-WTA pay gap has been widening in recent years, so this is an important commitment by the WTA. This new path forward will ensure the best WTA players are featured at the biggest events and provide additional tournament opportunities for lower-ranked players.
The U.S. Open in 1973 became the first Grand Slam tournament to offer equal prize money to men and women competitors, but it wasn't until 2007 that all four of the Grand Slams — the Australian, French, Wimbledon and U.S. Open — offered equal prize money.
And many tournaments still offer unequal prize money. Today, there is the biggest gap between male and female prize money since 2001. While 2023 marks the 50-year anniversary of Billie Jean King’s landmark victory of equal prize money at the U.S. Open, male players earn 75 percent more than female players (excluding Grand Slams), the Financial Times reports.
According to The Washington Post, at the 2022 Italian Open, Novak Djokovic earned more than $900,000 for winning the men's tournament, while Iga Swiatek took home about $365,000 for winning the women's title.
A few years ago, The New York Times reported that the annual prize money for the top 100 women prize winners in the WTA was roughly 80 cents to every dollar earned by the top 100 men in the ATP.
Players are happy to see tennis moving to close the pay gap.
"Every generation contributes to preserving the future of their sport, striving to leave it in a better state for the next," said Sloane Stephens, WTA player and players’ council member, in a statement. "I take pride in being a part of this evolution and fully support the WTA's commitment to progress.”
Tennis has come a long way since Billie Jean King hosted the BMC Invitational in 1971 at the Civic Auditorium in San Francisco. That was the first all-women's pro tennis tournament.
This is another watershed moment in pro tennis.
The Game Is Stronger Together
Tournaments like the Golden Gate Open are one more step in the right direction for gender equity, and Pablo Pires de Almeida is excited to bring this groundbreaking tournament to life.
"I want the Golden Gate Open to set an example for all combined tennis tournaments around the world," he told The Press Democrat. "Combined tournaments with equal pay are the future of tennis."
Pires de Almeida has a history of making positive things happen in tennis. After playing college tennis at the University of San Francisco from 2001 to 2005, he played on the pro tennis tour and was ranked inside the top 900 players in the world. He was the head coach at USF from 2013 to 2021 and a teaching pro at the California Tennis Club in San Francisco. In 2009, he founded the Battle in the Bay Classic, a men's and women's NCAA Division I tournament hosted at the California Tennis Club. He directed that tournament for 13 years until 2022.
The Golden Gate Open is the next part of Pires de Almeida's vision to shape a more equitable future in professional tennis. To do this, he started Mighty Tennis, an organization that provides tennis development for players of all ages. As the founder and CEO of Mighty Tennis, Pires de Almeida wants to empower current and future generations to build a sport in which all athletes are celebrated by supporting gender equity and broadening access to high-level tennis events.
Tennis is in good hands for the future with visionary leaders like Pablo Pires de Almeida, who was inspired by Arthur Ashe. The 2023 Golden Gate Open is the next big opportunity to strengthen the tennis community.
It won't be the last.
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