The difference between women’s tennis and men’s tennis, and how it effects Serena Williams

(written by lawrence krubner, however indented passages are often quotes). You can contact lawrence at:, or follow me on Twitter.

My friend Kathryn sent me this in an email, and I thought it made a good point, so with her permission I post it here:

I watched the Women’s final on TV and have been reading and listening to the commentaries. I feel a little of both sides on this – I think Serena behaved badly and ultimately she needed to keep her cool and she didn’t. I also think the official overused his power unnecessarily and inserted himself into a match in a way that was detrimental to everyone – Serena, Osaka, and the fans. He did not “have” to enforce things the way he did, and I think he probably wanted to make a point that Serena is not above the rules. That was his choice – and I think it was a bad one.

But there is an issue that occurs to me that I haven’t heard anyone else mention and I wonder why. The fact is, because the women’s match is best out of 3 and the men’s match is best out of 5 the penalties – while perhaps “fair” in their application – are inherently more damaging to the women. If the same event had occurred in a men’s game during the 2nd set it would be hurtful for sure – but not to the degree that dropping to 5-3 in the 2nd set of a women’s match is. A male in that situation could cool his head, get himself together and potentially pull out a win even 2 sets down. But there is virtually no chance of that for the women. It means that the official essentially ended that match with no chance to let 2 amazing players really battle it out to the finish.

And so regardless of the “fairness” of the application of the penalties – and I think that is still the debatable and perhaps unanswerable question; whether a man in that situation would be treated the same way – the effect of them on a women’s match is much more severe based on the number of games and sets. That means the unfairness is structural, and will actually never be corrected unless the number of sets is the same in both men’s and women’s matches.

Anyway, almost all the commentary I have heard is focused on the rightness or wrongness of two specific people – Serena and the official – rather than the broader question of penalties in general being more damaging to women. I find that curious.