Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Stakhovsky Delivers Controversial Comments After Upsetting Gulbis

Fans of women's tennis were likely thrilled to see Ernests Gulbis, who offered some controversial comments on women in tennis a few weeks ago, make an early exit from Wimbledon today. However, that joy was quickly negated when his defeater Sergiy Stakhovsky once again spoke out against equal prize money for women.

Although his comments may upset many fans, I enjoyed reading the transcript of what Stakhovsky said and also found nothing wrong with what he had to say. Before I get into the controversial part of the press conference, here are some of the amusing things he had to say.

On beating Federer last year: "Um, yeah, yeah. Was not a bad result."

On similarites between Federer and Gulbis: "Not even close. Roger and Ernests on grass is like Rafa and me on clay."

On Ernests' antics: "I was trying not to get too much in conversation with him, but it’s hard not to."

On what he did wrong after beating Federer last year: "Like 355 press conferences"

Stakhovsky in his interview today, like every other interview of his that I have read or seen, was honest, realistic, and bold. Those are three things that are rarely seen from the top players in the game right now, which is a big reason why Gulbis called the Big Four boring last year.

When asked about his views on equal prize money, which he has already explained several times before, Stakhovsky answered honestly as if it were the first time. "Look, my position is never changing. The man is only as good as his word is. I don’t think that equal prize money is in the right place. It’s not about the physical and anything else. It’s just the value of the product is different. That’s it."

It's not a new argument in the ongoing debate about equal prize money, but it is different from things Gilles Simon, Janko Tipsarevic, and Gulbis have said. I believe that there is nothing to be upset about in this argument that Stakhovsky made.

Many times players argue that men should be paid more because they play best-of-5 at the slams and in general practice more. When players make that argument, it is understandable that fans of women's tennis are outraged. Longer matches don't make matches better. Many matches at Masters 1000 events are far more competitive than the countless first round blowouts at majors for men. There is nothing about best-of-3 tennis that is inferior to best-of-5.

Also, the idea that men practice more is based purely off anecdotal evidence. Whether true or not, prize money is a prize for what players do on the match court, not the practice court. Players don't receive checks at the end of a tournament based on how much they practiced. It is based on what round they reached from the matches played.

Stakhovsky didn't go that route in his answer to the question on equal prize money. Instead of arguing quantity, he argued quality. He claimed that how much men and women are paid in prize money should be based on how good of a product they present. And that's an argument that makes sense.

Take this for example. Except for three tournaments each year for the men, singles and doubles for both men and women play almost the same number of sets per at each tournament (some tournaments do 10-point tiebreakers in lieu of third sets). However, the doubles players receive just a small fraction of what the singles players get for the same result. Why? Because singles presents a better product.

Nobody claims that doubles players are being discriminated against when they receive less money. Everybody simply accepts that singles is more popular and draws in more fans than doubles, so they deserve more money. It should be the same way for prize money between men and women. How much money players from each tour earn should be determined independently.

With a policy of equal prize money in place, if the women's tour became more popular than the men's tour some day (which is a distinct possibility), women wouldn't be able to earn more prize money than men. The idea of giving women the same amount as men in prize money regardless of merit will prevent women from ever earning more than men.

Many people like to make this topic an ideological debate, but for Stakhovsky, who has never been a dominant force on the men's tour, it is a very real issue. Stakhovsky has earned 3.1 million dollars in his career, most of which went towards covering his expenses. Stakhovsky has done a lot as a member of the ATP Players Council to help raise prize money for lower ranked players. For him, this isn't an argument about the role of women in tennis or society in general. It's about making the tour a better place for his peers and future players.

Realistically, prize money isn't going away any time soon, which is a good thing. Still, it was nice to hear Stakhovsky answer honestly on a controversial topic when asked about it. Later in the interview, he said that he doesn't believe that he should be the president of the council. "Let’s be realistic, I’m 90 in the world. We have Simon, we Wawrinka, so we have players who can represent us better just by their name."

Stakhovsky's comment will be used to suggest that sexism is an issue in tennis. However, a more close look at the interview and the big picture shows that the Ukrainian was being honest about a topic that directly affects him. Like the whole interview, he answered the question on equal prize money honestly and fairly.


  1. Great article. I think equal prize money is a good thing, for reasons beyond economics. That being said, I have no issue with a different point of view if it is reasonable.

    The only issue I have with this piece is that stakhovsky is almost repeating word for word what simon said. Which is not surprising, I guess since they are both on the council and must have talked about it. I don't get how the same point of view can be reasonable when coming from one player and controversial when coming from another.

    1. Thanks for the comment. I looked up Simon's comments just now, and there are a few differences in what Simon said, which is why people were upset. Stakhovsky simply said that the tours are different, so the prize money should be different. Simon was a little more blunt. He said men are better, so they should be paid more. I think that's what got people upset. That is an interesting point you brought up.