Changing court conditions may make women's tennis more 'tight'

Changing court conditions may make women's tennis more 'tight'

Changing court conditions may make women's tennis more 'tight'
Changing court conditions to address differences in men's and women's play may make women's tennis matches more competitive or "tight", a new study has found.

Many sports adapt rules and equipment to better meet the needs of female competitors. For example, the net is lower in women's volleyball; basketballs are smaller; javelins are lighter; and hurdles are lower.

"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 Mosi Rosenboim, of 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," said Alex Krumer from the University of St Gallen in Switzerland.

"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 said.

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.

"The set-level analysis indicates that physical power, not competitiveness, is responsible for the different number of games per set," said Offer Moshe Shapir from New York University in Shanghai.

When researchers re-evaluated the 2010 tournaments and controlled for physical characteristics, such as height and body mass index, the gender gap in final scores completely disappeared.

Comparing matches of men and women who were as similar as possible in physical stature yielded the same results: no gender differences in the number of games per set.

"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," researchers said.

This argument also contributes to an earnings gap between professional female and male tennis players," they said.

After analysing 3,844 men's sets and 3,034 women's sets, researchers found that men's scores were closer.

"If no changes are made, playing on the same court makes men's and women's tennis a completely different game," Rosenboim said. The study was published in the Journal of Sports Economics.
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