The IX: Tennis Tuesday with Stephanie Livaudais, November 5, 2019
Ashleigh Barty wins WTA Finals | Let’s talk about that prize money
(Editor’s note: We are extremely excited to bring you our new Tennis Tuesday correspondent, Stephanie Livaudais! Stephanie has an insider’s knowledge and perspective of professional women’s tennis, and will be our new shepherd through that glorious world.)
Welcome back to Tennis Tuesday on the IX, brought to you this week by Stephanie Livaudais of the WTA! I’m still fighting jet lag after the trip back from Shenzhen, China, but I’m excited to be bringing you all the best coverage of women’s tennis news.
First, the biggest news of the week: Ashleigh Barty winning the WTA Finals. She dominated defending champion Elina Svitolina in a straight-sets final, despite coming into the matchup with an 0-5 record against her opponent.
It was definitely a fitting coronation for a player that had ruled the 2019 season: she won her first Grand Slam title at the French Open, as well as top-tier events in Miami and Birmingham, and ended the year as WTA World No. 1.
Barty also took home a record-breaking $4.42 million dollars in prize money, the largest check awarded in the history of professional tennis. From all the headlines coming out of Shenzhen – the amount of injuries, the choice of venue, the speed of the court, which we’ll get into below – this is the one that stands out the most to me.
When the $14 million total prize money purse was announced last year, the amount turned heads for a couple of reasons: not only was it doubled from the previous WTA Finals, it was also $6 million more than the amount on offer at the men’s equivalent ATP World Tour Finals. (A fact that seemed to spook the men’s tour as well, as they later announced a prize money increase of their own: $14.5 million dollars starting in 2021.)
More than just being another big check for the elite players, I feel like the prize money really represents what you can achieve when you properly invest in and promote women’s sport. And it’s important to highlight that as more and more voices continue to call for equal pay across all sports. It shows that you can fight for more than just equal pay – you can aim even higher.
In the future, it will be great to see some of those dollars trickle down to the players on the lower-tier tours too. But I keep coming back to the origin story of Venus and Serena Williams when I think about what a moment like this could mean for the future of our sport.
Where would women’s tennis be if their dad Richard hadn’t switched on the TV and seen Virginia Ruzici win $40,000 at the 1978 French Open, and decided that his daughters should play tennis? And how many parents with daughters in China – or Barty’s native Australia, or finalist Elina Svitolina’s Ukraine – will have performed the same mental calculations after watching the Finals in Shenzhen that Richard did years ago, and decided that they, too, would invest in the future of women’s tennis?
It’s an exciting thought, and an exciting time to be following women’s tennis!
This week in tennis
But her season’s not done yet. Barty will travel to Perth this week to represent her country in the Fed Cup final against France. Fun fact: Barty has won nine Fed Cup matches in a row, and owns a 10-1 record in singles when playing for Australia.
I really enjoyed WTA Insider Courtney Nguyen’s post-match chat with Barty, who is already looking ahead to – and steeling herself for – the Australian Open.
In other WTA Finals news, the tournament suffered a major blow when four of the eight qualified players had to withdraw or retire due to injury and illness. The culprit? Players say it’s the famously slow speed of the tournament’s indoor hardcourt.
The WTA has a great primer on that record-breaking prize money. I highly recommend checking out the four-part video series “The Evolution of Prize Money”, which tracks tour’s decades-long fight for equal prize money.
Female coaches in elite tennis are a small – but growing – minority in the WTA and a rarity on the men’s tour. Tennis365 sat down with WTA President Micky Lawler to talk about why it’s important to grow their numbers.
The decade belonged to Serena Williams, says New York Times’ Christopher Clarey, but its final year belonged to young stars like Ashleigh Barty, Naomi Osaka, Bianca Andreescu and Coco Gauff.
Sofia Kenin was one of the WTA Finals ‘alternates’ called on to replace an injured player in round robin play, and I sat down with her to chat about her experience waiting in the wings.
Highly recommended reading: Tennis.com’s Steve Tignor remembers ‘the Goddess’ Suzanne Lenglen for everything she was: a trailblazing icon, an international superstar, and a tragic cautionary tale.
Tweet of the week
I know this is an Instagram post and not a tweet, but this was Coco Gauff’s amazing Halloween costume. Coco, please never change:
Five at the IX: Ashleigh Barty
Barely an hour after winning the WTA Finals, it was all just starting to sink in for champion Ashleigh Barty. But she still was very thoughtful in her post-match press conference, reflecting on a great 2019 season, the new faces rising up the WTA ranks, and her decision to quit tennis as a teenager.
Here are some excerpts:
Q. How does it feel?
ASHLEIGH BARTY: Bizarre, if I’m being completely honest. It feels like it’s been a year that just hasn’t stopped. It’s been a year of incredible ups and downs, I think more ups than downs. To cap it off with a very, very special night tonight in Shenzhen is really cool.
Q. Four Top 10 wins this week. I think you’re the first World No.1 to win this title since Serena in 2014. Is it really satisfying to underline your season in that sort of manner?
ASHLEIGH BARTY: Yeah, I mean, to come through a week like this, you have to beat the best of the best. I think it kind of takes me back to some memories in Miami where I felt like I did that for the first time, beating back-to-back Top 10 players, having that really consistent week.
I’ve grown and developed so much since that fortnight in Miami. I think, yeah, the week that we’ve had, to be able to bounce back after the disappointment after my match with Kiki [Bertens] was really important.
I think now to be here, to be in a position where we finished off our season in the best way possible is just remarkable.
Q. Looking at what you’ve achieved this week, this year, what Bianca [Andreescu] has done, Naomi [Osaka], do you feel we’re well and truly into a new era for women’s tennis?
ASHLEIGH BARTY: I don’t think there’s such a thing as a new era. I think there’s still some domination from some of the older players that actually aren’t that old, they’ve just been around a long time, have been at the very highest level for a long time.
From my perspective, because I’m one of the fresher faces, it’s nice to have a few fresh faces at the top of the game. I think the most amazing thing is the depth in the women’s game at the moment. Anyone in the Top 20, 30, 40 has the ability to win tournaments, is doing well and going deep in big tournaments.
Q. Obviously top players don’t compete for prize money but for the title. But could you explain what does it feel like to earn more than $10 million in this season. We common people don’t have the opportunity to experience it.
ASHLEIGH BARTY: I feel like you’re setting me up for failure there (smiling).
Look, it’s been an incredible season. Money aside, it kind of means nothing to me. I know I have the love and the support of my family. I try and work hard every single day to chase my dreams. Regardless of how many zeros is sitting in my bank account, it doesn’t change the way I live my life, who I am and how I live as a person.
I think even though it’s incredible, we’re breaking records this week in particular, putting tennis on the map, putting WTA tennis on the map. I feel like we’ve earned that right to be recognized more as a global sport.
For me, it doesn’t change a thing regardless of what is sitting in the bank account.
Q. When you quit tennis at age 18, I don’t understand how you were so smart to do that. Did you have any doubts telling yourself if it’s the right thing to do? At 23 you seem to be talking like somebody who has had two or three lifetimes.
ASHLEIGH BARTY: I think at the time I didn’t have the clarity in my mind to think it was a smart decision. For me it was the only decision. It was the only kind of feasible option for me to maybe have a future in the sport. I needed to take some time away. I needed to refresh, give myself a chance to really realize what I wanted in life.
I think I was lucky enough to have very good people around me to kind of guide me, also allow me to make my own decisions, become more accountable. I feel like in that time away from tennis I did that. I matured obviously. I had a couple years where I grew as a person.
Then when I came back into the sport, it was about me making my own decisions and being completely 100% all in and accountable for all of my actions and decisions that I made.
Q. I know it’s a long time since you took a break from tennis, but do you think when you made that decision to take a break, could you ever have envisaged being in this situation now: word No. 1, Grand Slam champion, to be a Finals champion?
ASHLEIGH BARTY: Not at all. Not at all. I felt like for me, that kind of period of my life that I had away from tennis, away from professional tennis, was really important for my development as a person more than anything, regardless of the tennis player.
When I started hitting balls again probably in February 2016, it feels like a long, long time ago now, but it was also when I started the journey with Tyz [coach Craig Tyzzer]. For us, we wanted to try and see what we were capable of as a team.
Our team has grown and developed from there. I think for us, it’s just been a really special year to know that kind of the sky is the limit. We’ve played some exceptional tennis this year. We’ve had some heartbreaking moments and we’ve had every emotion in between.
We’re just trying to get better every single day. That’s the reason why we’re working so hard every single day, is to enjoy the journey, enjoy the story of my life I suppose. I’m very grateful that I get to share that with him.