The Greatest Wimbledon Victory of 2007
And the woman who who was the real champ
Gather round tennis fans, Wimbledon is back!
Although the first lawn tournament at Wimbledon dates back to 1877, it wasn’t until nearly a century later (1968) that the tournament began welcoming professional tennis players.
That year, the winner of the gentleman’s singles at Wimbledon took home £2000 as prize money.
The winner of the ladies’ singles took home £750.
It would take 32 years until the gentleman’s and ladies’ champs of Wimbledon were awarded the same prize money — in 2007.
How did that happen?
I was curious…
While her sister Serena has received the bulk of media and fan attention for many years, 20 years ago, the dominant Williams in women’s tennis was Venus.
She was the Wimbledon champion in 2000 and 2001, the runner-up in 2002 and 2003, and then champion again in 2005.
But there was one battle she found harder to win than the one on Centre Court: the battle for equal pay.
Every tennis player owes a debt of gratitude to Billie Jean King and the Original 9, who fought to make sure there was a women’s competition so long ago.
But it was Venus who picked up the fight that King and others started decades earlier.
The US Open had paid women and men the same prize money since 1973, and the Australian Open followed suit in 2001.
But the European Grand Slams lagged behind.
In 2005, on the day before her Wimbledon final match, Venus Williams stood before the execs of Wimbledon and the French Open and made a passionate plea for equality.
The French Open execs were convinced, and agreed to pay parity for the 2006 tournament.
But Wimbledon lagged behind.
She started the letter by expressing her love and admiration for the Wimbledon tournament, saying how as young girls she and her sister Serena had imagined playing on Centre Court and being Wimbledon champions.
“There is nothing like playing at Wimbledon; you can feel the footprints of the legends of the game — men and women — that have graced those courts,” she wrote.
But then she expressed her disappointment and concern.
By awarding the women’s champion £30,000 less than the men’s champion, Wimbledon was sending a message: that women were second class.
And this message was reiterated with a women’s total prize pot that was £750,000 less than the men’s.
She countered the argument that women are paid less because they don’t play “five sets like the men.”
She said she and all the other women players were willing to play five sets – and that the chairman of the All England Club knew this, and had even acknowledged that women players are physically capable of playing five sets.
And, she added,
“The ladies’ final at Wimbledon in 2005 lasted 45 minutes longer than the men’s.”
“No extra charge.”
To put the issue in economic terms, Williams stated that the difference between men and women’s prize money in 2005 was less than was spent on ice cream and strawberries in the first week of the tournament.
“So the refusal of the All England Club, which declared a profit of £25 million from last year’s tournament, to pay equal prize money can’t be about cash.”
She finished her letter with a commitment, saying she would keep doing everything she could “until Billie Jean’s original dream of equality is made real.”
The £30,000 difference in the prize money may have been small in terms of the total prize money – but it was symbolic.
Venus wasn’t just asking for money, she was asking for respect. And recognition that women and men are both making valuable contributions to the sport and the tournament.
She was ready to counter their arguments about the contributions women make and even elicited a laugh (at least from me) with her line ‘no extra charge’ after reminding them that the women’s final was longer than the men’s.
And she ended her letter with a message of hope – of possibility – and a commitment to do what she can to make this a reality.
And it worked.
In 2007, Venus Williams made history again when she won the Wimbledon singles tournament for a fourth time – and became the first female champion to earn the same prize money as the male champion.
Dear Wimbledon Tennis Players:
If you haven’t done it already, it’s time to write Venus Williams a thank you note.
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I’ll keep saying it: Communication matters.
Look what Venus did with her communication skills!
It’s great seeing someone get it right, because it’s so easy to make communication mistakes that cost you relationships, your reputation, and your job.
And good news, friends… If you want to improve your communication (and get all the good things that come with that), I’m your gal.
So many companies could reap so benefits – from performance and culture to retention and engagement – by improving their communication.
I help clients with communication strategy, planning, and thinking.
And I do the ‘doing’, too.
I also teach people the skills to help them become better communicators and leaders through 1:1 coaching and team workshops (that are effective – and fun!).
And if you see any communication examples (the good, the bad, and the ugly) that you think are worth analyzing or sharing, please send them my way!