Tennis officials say a basic mathematical discrepancy was to blame for an Italian Open prize money situation that has been labelled "embarrassing" and "disgusting" by observers.
Controversy erupted this week over the latest example of uneven pay in tennis after Rome men's winner Novak Djokovic and female champion Simona Halep collected their cheques.
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The issue of equal pay has long been a contentious one in tennis, with all four grand slams moving towards equal pay for the respective men's and women's champions in recent years.
At the Italian Open, however, it was revealed that Djokovic was awarded €205,200 for winning the tournament, while Halep got €205,190 - a measly €10 difference.
The ludicrous scenario has left tennis fans scratching their heads, with American tennis writer Ben Rothenberg describing it as “utterly hilarious”.
Many could not fathom how tournament officials could get so close to pay parity, yet fell so embarrassingly short.
However, the WTA says there is a simple explanation for the bizarre anomaly.
A spokeswoman for the women’s professional tour — much like the head of the tournament itself — has shrugged off the discrepancy, chalking it up to a matter of maths.
“This comes down to a simple rounding situation that’s all,” WTA spokeswoman Amy Binder wrote in an email to The Associated Press.
A year ago, the difference between champion cheques was much greater: The Italian Open is a top-tier Masters 1000 event for men (2019 champion Rafael Nadal earned about $1.55 million), and a second-tier Premier Five event for women (2019 champion Karolina Pliskova took home about $869,000).
Governing bodies set prize money for champions
With spectators, a significant source of revenue, barred completely for most of the tournament because of the coronavirus pandemic — 1,000 fans were allowed in for the semifinals and finals — the ATP and WTA reduced prize money in Rome.
The ATP cut prize money for the men by 40%; the WTA reduced the pot for the women by 32%.
The tours tell the tournament how much to hand out to players.
“Look, all we do is organise the tournament,” Italian Open director Sergio Palmieri said in a telephone interview.
“The ATP decides how much to award their players and the WTA decides how much to award their players. And we pay. The only thing we do is pay.”
The total financial commitment for the men was nearly 4 million euros ($6.59 million) this year in Rome, and nearly 1.7 million euros (nearly $2.8 million) for the women.
Palmieri noted that the men’s and women’s tournaments divide their prize money differently from round to round.
The pay difference comes during a week that marks the 50th anniversary of Billie Jean King and the other members of the Original 9 signing $1 contracts to launch the women’s pro tennis circuit.
King has often said that she was moved to form the women’s circuit after earning $600 for her 1970 Italian Open title — while Ilie Nastase took home $3,500 for winning the men’s tournament the same year.