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If you’ve ever watched professional tennis, you know how riveting a good match can be. Both men’s and women’s tennis matches can be exciting, but you might find yourself wondering: are men’s and women’s tennis really all that different?
Men’s vs Women’s Tennis: The Differences
As is the case with most sports, men have a physical advantage in tennis. That physical advantage manifests itself in a few different aspects of gameplay, as we’ll see in a minute. But did you know that tennis is one of the few sports that actually have different rules for women and men?
The most basic rules of tennis remain the same for men and women. But in high-level tournaments (including the top four Grand Slams), the length of the match differs: women play to best of three sets. Men play to best of five.
But why is this? The difference in tournament format is largely due to tradition. In the early 1900s, tennis officials believed women in professional tennis didn’t have the endurance to play five sets. The rules have just remained the same since then.
It’s worth noting that the difference in game length doesn’t apply to all tournaments, though. In many tournaments, both men’s and women’s matches are played to the best of three sets.
One result of the difference in game length is that men tend to have more consistent rankings. If a player makes a mistake early on in a match, playing to the best of five sets gives them a lot more time to correct it. A match played to the best of three sets means that individual errors have a more significant impact on the final score.
Serving & Hitting Speed
Generally, male players are able to hit the ball faster than their female counterparts. Just one example: Sam Groth has the record for the fastest serve hit on an ATP (Association of Tennis Professionals) tour. His serve was clocked at 163 mph.
Venus Williams has the record for the fastest Women’s Tennis Association serve. Hers was 130 mph. Experts estimate that the best female tennis players hit serves that are roughly 80% as fast as those of the best male players.
Men’s greater physical strength is generally responsible for faster serves. Research indicates that internal shoulder rotation is responsible for 40% of the tennis racket’s forward speed, and men tend to have greater shoulder rotation than women.
The greater power of men’s hits also has an impact on the experience of watching a tennis match. Thanks to the high-speed serves and hits, men’s tennis games often seem faster-paced than women’s games.
Aces and Volleys
Partially as a result of high serve speeds, there are usually more aces in men’s tennis than there are in women’s tennis. An ace is when a player makes a legal serve that the opponent cannot reach. As a result, the serving player wins the point and there is no need for a second serve.
To hit an ace, you need to place the ball correctly and hit it with significant power. Since men are stronger than average, you see more professional men hit aces than professional women.
Since men’s tennis involves more aces, it stands to reason that women’s games involve proportionally more volleys. You tend to players hit shots back and forth more often in women’s tennis.
Do Men and Women Ever Play Together?
Yes. In mixed doubles competitions, men and women play against one another. But since there are no ranking points given for this type of doubles match, it’s often not taken as seriously. At Wimbledon, the prize money awarded for the mixed doubles match is less than the prize for men’s or women’s doubles. Men’s doubles (where each team has two men) and women’s doubles (where each team has two women) do count toward rankings.
While mixed doubles might not impact world rankings, it can still be a valuable learning experience. Both men and women will need to adapt their playing style a bit on the doubles court while playing against the opposite gender.
Battle of the Sexes
While male and female players don’t routinely play against one another, there have been some notable mixed-sex singles games. In 1973, Bobby Riggs, a former #1 player, won a “battle of the sexes” game against Margaret Court, the current #2 women’s player.
Riggs campaigned against equal pay for women in tennis and believed he could beat any woman. A few months after winning against Court, he faced Billie Jean King, the top female tennis player in the world.
Riggs had been challenging King to a match for some time, but she had persistently refused. However, once Court lost to Riggs, King realized that she needed to face Riggs herself.
This led to the most famous “Battle of the Sexes” tennis match in Houston. There were over 30,000 spectators at the Houston Astrodome to see the event, and another 50 million people watched on TV!
This match was played like a men’s Grand Slam game: King and Riggs were playing to best of five. But they didn’t end up having to play all five: Billie Jean King defeated Bobby Riggs in three straight sets.
Periodically, there’s another battle of the sexes game. In 1998, Venus and Serena Williams each played against Karsten Braasch, a German player ranked #203 in the world. This was after Venus Williams boasted that the Williams sisters could beat any man ranked outside of the top 200. Braasch overheard her and volunteered to play against the sisters.
He played one set against each Williams sister and won both, even smoking a few cigarettes in between. Notably, this battle of the sexes wasn’t publicized or part of a tournament; it was just an exhibition match done for fun.
If you’d like to learn more about other times in history where men and women have played against one another, check out this interesting video!
Is Tennis Equipment Different for Men and Women?
While tennis shoes and clothing are generally divided into men’s and women’s categories, you might be surprised to hear that most tennis equipment itself is pretty gender-neutral.
In particular, no rackets are specifically made for female tennis players vs male tennis players. You can often find top male and female players using the same model of racket.
Tennis associations set constraints on weight and sizing of rackets, and these constraints apply to men and women. Each player can then choose the racket that suits their build, strength, and playing style.
However, many people don’t realize that many tournaments use slightly different balls for men’s and women’s games. The United States Tennis Association uses extra-duty felt balls for men’s games and regular-duty felt balls for women’s games. The ball size and pressure are the same for both.
So why use different balls? The extra-duty balls used for men are a little heavier, so they’re a little slower coming off the racket. The women’s balls are lighter and move quickly off the racket. This helps make women’s tennis games faster. And since men’s games tend to be faster-paced in general, using different balls helps make the games more similar in speed.
While some major tournaments use different balls for men and women, other tournaments do not. For example, Wimbledon, the French Open, and the Australian Open use the same balls for men and women.
Are Male and Female Players Paid the Same?
The topic of equal pay for male and female tennis players was once hotly contested. After all, in many sports, female athletes are still paid less than men.
Today, male and female tennis players receive approximately equal prize money, but that change didn’t come easily. Tennis professionals like Billie Jean King (and more recently, the Williams sisters) have been vocal about the need for pay equality, as has the Women’s Tennis Association.
Billie Jean King may well have been one of the most influential people in the fight. She threatened to boycott the 1973 US Open unless the winner of the men’s tournament and the winner of the women’s tournament were paid equally.
The US Open agreed to equal pay. Gradually, Grand Slam events started paying female champions the same as their male counterparts. Wimbledon was the last event to do so; it took until 2007 to pay men and women equally. It made this change after consistent advocacy from Venus Williams.
However, while many tournaments now offer equal prize money, male players still usually earn more when endorsements are factored in.
Understanding the Differences
Whether you play tennis or just enjoy watching, it can be helpful to understand how men’s ad women’s games are different. Regardless of the gender playing, tennis almost always manages to be an exciting and mesmerizing sport to watch!
Still have some questions on men vs women tennis? Here are some answers:
In terms of rules, women’s games and men’s games are the same. But in many professional matches, women play to the best of three sets and men play to the best of five sets. Since men tend to hit the ball faster, men’s games are also usually faster-paced than women’s games.
Not in singles matches. But in a mixed doubles match, each team has one man and one woman. However, there are no ranking points tied to mixed doubles matches.
Occasionally, high-profile male and female tennis players will go up against one another in an exhibition match, but no official tournament hosts male vs female singles matches.
It’s somewhat equal, generally speaking. Data from 2019 indicates that around the world, 47% of tennis players are women and 53% are men. In North America, though, more women play tennis than men.
The answer to this depends on the metric you use. Viewership of major women’s matches tends to be slighter higher than that of major men’s matches. But on social media, it’s pretty equal: of the top 10 most-followed tennis players on social media, half are men’s and half are women’s tennis players. Here is our list of Top 10 Female Tennis Players Who Won The Most Grand Slams – you will see a lot of famous faces there.
Women beating men in tennis is not unheard of. The most famous example was a 1973 “Battle of the Sexes” tennis match between Billie Jean King (the top female player in the world at that time) and Bobby Riggs.
Bobby Riggs had already defeated Margaret Court (the #2 female player at the time) and believed he could beat any woman. Billie Jean King defeated Riggs in three straight sets.