Venus Williams praised Wimbledon chiefs after the tournament’s much-maligned schedule-makers finally gave female stars top billing on Wednesday.
For the first time in 25 years, there were more women’s matches than men’s on Wimbledon’s six show courts in a single day of play.
There were 11 women’s ties scheduled compared to 10 for men as Venus and her sister Serena Williams, along with world number two Caroline Wozniacki and former US Open finalist Karolina Pliskova, were given the spotlight.
On Centre Court and Court One — Wimbledon’s two biggest stadiums — two women’s singles matches, including Venus and seven-time winner Serena, entertained the sell-out crowd in each prestigious arena, alongside only one men’s match in each.
After years of being criticised for prioritising male stars like Roger Federer and Andy Murray, Wimbledon bosses have bowed to pressure and Venus, a five-time champion at the grass-court Grand Slam, was quick to salute the move.
“I was really overjoyed when I saw the schedule for today. We have a lot of equal play on the main courts in the other three Grand Slams,” Venus said after her second round win over Alexandra Dulgheru on Court One.
“It was just fantastic to see Wimbledon also follow suit. It’s wonderful to hopefully have that continue, to have equal for the men and the women.”
Wimbledon chief executive Richard Lewis had defended their match selection policy earlier this week, saying the “marquee” matches were given top priority regardless of the sex of the competitors.
Whether women continue to get equal playing time on Centre and Court One remains to be seen.
Former Wimbledon champion Chris Evert suggested the men’s and women’s finals could alternate between the final Saturday and Sunday of the tournament.
Since 1969, the men’s final has been played the day after the women’s final, and Lewis has already quashed any suggestion of that changing.
For now, Venus, 38, settled for acknowledging a welcome milestone for her peers, one that followed her own campaigning in previous years to try to secure equal prize money for both men and women at Grand Slams.
“I haven’t thought about the pride level. I think it’s just about being able to be a part of something bigger than yourself. Tennis will go on long after I’m done,” the world number nine said.
“I just want to see the sport rise, not just women or men, but just tennis in general.
“It’s wonderful to see women rise, and I’d like to see these tournaments just get bigger and better.”
Hinting that she could take a role in shaping the future of tennis herself, Venus added: “I believe in tennis we can market our players, we can try to find a way to market our players better because that grows the sport.
“I think that would probably be one of the biggest changes. I happen to love branding, not like research marketing, leave that for someone else.
“But perhaps I see myself in that sort of position after I’m done, or even now I think is a good time to maybe put into practice what I’ve learned from my businesses into tennis.”
© Agence France-Presse