At a time when lack of competitiveness has often been cited as a justification for paying female tennis players less than the men, researchers have found that changing court conditions to address differences in men's and women's play might make women's tennis matches more 'tight'.
Novak Djokovic, the world’s top men’s player, recently added fuel to the fire of pay-gap controversy when he said men should be paid more than women because their matches have more spectators that those played by women.
"Lowering court nets and playing with lighter tennis balls to accommodate physiological differences would help make women's matches more competitive, with scores closer to the men's," said one of the researchers Mosi Rosenboim from Ben-Gurion University of the Negev (BGU) in Israel.
"It is important to note that the current disparity is not related to competitive drive. It is usually attributed to differences in strength and speed, particularly when serving," Alex Krumer from University of St. Gallen in Switzerland, pointed out.
"While a men's set is typically a duel of ace serves, resulting in back-and-forth game wins, women break more serves, which results in shorter sets," Krumer explained.
In the study, published in the Journal of Sports Economics, the researchers examined the differences between men's and women's tournament scores from the 24 top men's and 23 top women's singles tournaments of the 2010 season.
They evaluated the "tightness," or competitiveness of a match according to how close the set scores were.
Men's sets were consistently closer (6-4, 7-5), while women's sets tended to be more lopsided, with scores of 6-2, 6-1.
However, comparing matches of men and women who were as similar as possible in physical stature yielded no gender differences in the number of games per set.
"The set-level analysis indicates that physical power, not competitiveness, is responsible for the different number of games per set," Moshe Shapir from New York University in Shanghai, said.
"Level of competitiveness is one of the most important factors in the sports industry, where uncertain outcomes generate more interest from fans and higher ticket sales. This argument also contributes to an earnings gap between professional female and male tennis players," Shapir said.
"If no changes are made, playing on the same court makes men's and women's tennis a completely different game," Rosenboim said.