How subjectivity and value play a role in Martina Navratilova's assertion that the BBC pays her 10% of what it pays John McEnroe. 

By Jon Wertheim
March 21, 2018

A Mailbag while pondering how it is that Serena Williams draws Naomi Osaka in the first round at the Miami Open, with the winner to face Elina Svitolina….

While applauding the USTA for this U.S. Open spot….

While offering an Indian Wells recap (and a Miami look ahead).


Have a question or comment for Jon? Email him at or tweet him @jon_wertheim.

Jon, venting here...I think you know I’m as liberal as they come. I’d walk over hot coals to defend gender equity and the righteousness of equal treatment and equal protection, but this thing with the pay gap at the BBC is doing harm to the meritorious arguments of pay inequity for women. 

The pay gap issue in entertainment/performance fields is not nearly as cut-and-dry as its being portrayed. The notion that men and women in similar positions need to be paid similarly assumes two false suppositions:

1) That all performers of the SAME gender who perform similar jobs receive like compensation.  

2) That “job description” and experience are the lone arbiters of compensations for a performer. 

Neither of these is true. The chief arbiter in determining a performer’s compensation is value. Value is a nuanced metric. It is subject to more variables that just experience and job description. Performers’ value is a function of, among other things, their notoriety, their public impact, their name recognition, their audience appeal and yes, their skill. 

Because, for example, two sports analysts of opposite genders might have similar playing resumes and might be asked to perform similar announcing responsibilities, does not mean their value to their employer is similar and consequently, does not necessarily mean their compensation should be similar. 

Does 60 Minutes pay you the same as they pay Oprah? I don’t imagine you have a beef with that inequity? I think this is one of those hard topics that needs to be addressed.
Name withheld

• Where to begin here? This is clearly a response to Martina Navratilova’s assertion on Monday that the BBC pays her 10% of what it pays John McEnroe. And before we go further I feel like I need to come clean and state that I am totally in the bag for Martina, a national treasure as far as I’m concerned.

I agree with the reader in most respects. Equality is a noble and worthy goal. Pay gaps are regrettable. Gender equity is important; our daughters should be paid commensurate with our sons. And by the same token, we need to respect the market and, yes, value. I pay less to attend my daughter’s school play than I do to attend Hamilton. I pay more for NBA tickets than for WNBA tickets. On the whole, female models make more than male models. Why? Because of prejudice and inequity? No, because there is a market that assigns value. And this market should not be distorted and artificially engineered.

In some cases, gender equality is easy. Two workers making widgets with comparable experience, logging comparable shifts? They should be paid the comparably. In other cases, there’s subjectivity, sure, and we need to consider value. This is one of those cases.

But if I’m Martina’s agent, after conceding subjectivity, I then make this pivot and ask the BBC, to what are you attributing this value? What data suggests that John McEnroe is 10 times more valuable than my client? Please show me the advertisers and audiences who prefer McEnroe by the 10:1 ratio reflected in the compensation. “Listen, if you can demonstrate that McEnroe is delivering 10x value, then go for it. But if you can’t, we have a problem.”

Given that the BBC is a public entity—and this pay gap appears to be so systemic as to have its own Wikipedia entry—it’s all the more essential these decisions are justified and justifiable.            

(Let’s not hold off for today, but obviously there’s an offshoot discussion here about equal prize money in tennis. If you want to watch the full BBC Panorama report, "Britain's Equal Pay Scandal," click here.)

Saying Vika's missing her prime by choice is...not how I would phrase it.

• Let’s be clear: Victoria Azarenka is embroiled in a bitter (and expensive) custody dispute with her son’s father. She is permitted to travel wherever she wants. (i.e. she could play a full schedule if she so chooses.) She is not, however, permitted to make these trips with her son. And so it is she has decided not to.

I hadn’t given much thought to the doubles results in this tournament, and just read that Isner/Sock won the men’s title. While Sock has proven to be quite the doubles specialist (can’t argue with Slam titles), as far as I know, Isner is less accomplished in that regard. Do you think, especially now that he’s north of 30, that it might serve Isner well to focus on doubles? I’d say without reservation that he’s more likely to win a doubles Slam title as opposed to singles. Might be a great way to pad his resume in what’s likely (if not now, then soon) the twilight of his career. 

I was lucky enough to catch a match of his at the Rogers Cup, and seeing him on a small outside court really put his size in perspective. His height and wingspan seem perfect for doubles. (I understand that they can also be hindrances.) Curious to know your thoughts. 
L.T., Toronto

• I think this applies to a lot of players. The question comes down to whether they are willing to transition and deal with the status change. Going from a singles player to a doubles specialist will be an appealing reinvention to some and an intolerable concession to others.

“Hey, I can continue this charmed life, traveling the world, putting my gifts to use, working outdoors and remaining part of this community? Sign me up!” Some players (Ivan Dodig is the first name that comes to mind) are all-in. Martina Hingis, of course, is also a recent example.

“Wait, I was playing Roger Federer in packed stadiums and aspiring to win majors. Now I’m on court 17 with no Hawk-Eye playing doubles? No thanks.” (I’m scanning the top 10 right now and I’m having a hard time seeing any player transition to doubles specialist.)

I’ve never discussed this with Isner. But knowing him a bit, my strong suspicion is that when he retires from singles, he retires from tennis. He’s married. He’s a college graduate. He has other ambitions. I don’t disagree that he could be a successful doubles-only player, But I don’t think that’s a likely scenario.

How in the hell could you not like DelPo?!

• Everybody might hate Chris. But everybody loves DelPo.

Enjoyed the post-Indian Wells parting thoughts but felt that I watched a different tournament. How about a shout out to Borna Coric making his first Masters 1000 semi and nearly taking out the Fed? Potential future No. 1? Also, the story of the tournament for me was how incredibly testy the men’s final was. A 36-year-old with 20 Grand Slams is acting like he is desperately trying to win his first big tournament. It rivaled a matched between McEnroe and Nastase. And Fed and Delpo are friends!
Tim Johnson, New York, N.Y.

• You’re right, I’m wrong on point one. No doubt we should have included a nod to Coric, who played a terrific event. Born(a) in 1996, he is only 21 and, after a few frustrating years, is taking flight.

I hear you on the testy final but, again, I draw a real distinction between “hot state” and “cool state.” It’s one reason I never have an issue with Andy Murray. (Or, for that matter, Andy Roddick.) We act uncharacteristically in states of heightened arousal. If he’s a jerk in the players’ lounge it's one thing. If he’s a jerk at 4-4 in the third, I take out the shiv and start cutting slack….

"A Grand Slam–caliber event"—the difference between American estimations of Indian Well’s worth and the opinion of the rest of the world....

• You have a 96-player field playing over 11 days. You have both genders present. You have 32 seeds. You have zero players missing the event by choice, suggesting that the competitors believe it is freighted with prestige. You have packed singles and doubles draws. You have every amenity available. You have crowds of more than 400,000 fans. If there is an event that comes closer to approximating a major, I’ve missed it.           

As a Federer fanatic, it saddens me that after yesterday, he is now 1-8 in finals with a deciding set tiebreak. His lone win was against his coach, Ivan Ljubicic, in the 2005 Rotterdam final.

• Right. This is a ground rule in statistics and probability: the greater the sample size, the great the accuracy. Regression to the mean and all that. Flip a coin 10 times and you might get nine heads and one tail. Flip a coin 1,000 times and you are far less likely to get 900 heads and 100 tails. Give each player one shot and some Joe off the street might beat Steph Curry in a shooting contest. Give them 100 and Curry will win.

Same in tennis. The better players will prevail given the larger sample size. This is why the top guys are sometimes vulnerable in shoot-outs. And why we will not—and should not—be in a hurry to abandon best-of-five.

Jon: One of the pleasant surprises to me this year at Indian Wells was Danielle Collins. I really liked the way she used both variety of shot selection and power in her game, and she really showed some good composure and class in her matches. In her interviews she came across as very grounded and intelligent (...including referring to herself as being "bright" as a reason she stuck with college at UVA). I definitely like seeing former college players making their mark in the WTA (aka: see also Jen Brady). Do you think she could be top 50 or higher? She gets additional props for being the Long Lost Sibling of 1980s new wave icon Kim Wilde ("Kids in America") for those of us from that generation.
Jere Diersing, San Diego, Calif.

• Sure. Very nice Indian Wells for Danielle Collins, including a win over Madison Keys. And say this: she’s a bit salty, as the kids say. Not in an arrogant way, but there’s sufficient self-belief. What’s her ceiling? Who know? She’s top 100 right now. And if she can whittle that down to a place where she’ll have automatic ins to draws, she’ll really be in business. Not an obvious weapon. But not an obvious weakness either. Add that and some confidence and you can put together an awfully nice career.

When you speak about fashion, which player were you talking about???

• I think discretion should prevail here. I don’t want to humiliate the party in question. The overall point: we can all roll our eyes at the players who take the court with a complement of cosmetics and industrial coating of hair gel. But when a player goes to the opposite extreme and wears mismatched tops and looks unkempt, it sends the opponent a message, as it would any colleague in a workplace environment. “I am struggling with my confidence and don’t have my act together right now.”

I’m wondering why there is a constant focus and discussion about players who not are actually playing a match during a match and when does it become a disservice to the players who are actually playing the match? I noticed during the finals of the women’s match today that the announcers were comparing Osaka to Serena Williams in the final game of the championship and then the on-court interview also mentioned both Serena Williams and Azarenka in regards to Osaka’s current coach. 

I felt that the focus should have been squarely on the two young women trying to win the tournament. Is this fair reporting and I am missing something? Please explain. 

• I didn’t hear the broadcast, so I can’t speak specifically to this. But it sounds reasonable. Using familiar players is a way to provide context and anchoring, especially if you work on the assumption that some of your readers are casual fans. We do this in other sports; and we do this in other areas. How often have we heard that Beto O’Rourke is in the mold of a Kennedy or that Alibaba is like Amazon for China?             

Taro Daniel is in the qualifying draw this week in Miami. Didn’t he have a career-defining win last week?
James B.

• He sure hopes it wasn’t career *defining*….we speak, of course, of Taro Daniel’s defeat of Djokovic in Indian Wells. But, yes, such is the particular cruelty of this circus. One day you're beating a 12-time Grand Slam in a 19,000-seat stadium. The next week you’re on the back courts of Crandon Park.

Ken Flach played at Southern Illinois Edwardsville. Its campus and athletic program are separate from Southern Illinois (in Carbondale). Flach was no Saluki.
John Hillburn

• “Flach was no Saluki” sounds like a speakeasy password. But you are correct and I thank you for making the distinction. Southern Illinois Edwardsville—where Flach met Seguso—is a branch campus of Southern Illinois.

Shots Miscellany

• Sloane Stephens drinks chocolate milk.

Here’s a podcast I did recently with the uomo at UbiTennis.

• Roger Federer was joined by Rod Laver, John McEnroe and Nick Kyrgios in Chicago on Monday to launch the Laver Cup. The four met up today at Chicago’s iconic Cloud Gate sculpture, and Federer and Krygios had a friendly hit on a court laid out in front of "The Bean." Tickets for the event, which will take place at the United Center from September 21-23, go on sale Friday, March 23 at

• The New York Empire presented by Citi today announced the return of International Tennis Hall of Famer and two-time Olympic Gold Medalist Gigi Fernandez as head coach of the third-year World TeamTennis (WTT) franchise.

• The 2012 champion Marin Cilic and 2014 winner Grigor Dimitrov have signed up to play in The Queen’s Club Championships, June 18-24. As tickets went on general sale, Cilic and Dimitrov added their names to those of World No. 2 Rafael Nadal and five-time champion Andy Murray in declaring their intention to compete for the iconic silver trophy.

• Nearly 38 years after his thrilling five-set tiebreak victory at Wimbledon, FILA announced that it has partnered again with Hall of Famer and former World No. 1 player Bjӧrn Borg, as a brand ambassador. The agreement was officially signed today by Gene Yoon, Global Chairman at FILA, and Borg, at Salkhallen in Stockholm, Sweden.

• A lot of respect to Yevgeny Kafelnikov for this. (h/t Rohit Sudarshan, Apia, Samoa)

• Thanks to a reader who sent this video titled: “Felix et Federer”


• Brazil's Beatriz Haddad Maia and Paraguay's Montserrat Gonzalez have been nominated for a Fed Cup Heart Award following their performances in Americas Zone Group I in February. The award aims to recognize players who have represented their country with distinction, shown exceptional courage on court and demonstrated outstanding commitment to the team during Fed Cup. Voting for the Fed Cup Heart Award will open on March 23.

• Defending BB&T Atlanta Open singles champion, John Isner, and the top-ranked American, Jack Sock, lead a strong field for the annual ATP World Tour tennis event at Atlantic Station in Midtown, to be held July 21-29, 2018. The most decorated doubles tandem of all-time and the defending doubles champions, Bob and Mike Bryan, The Bryan Brothers, will be looking to repeat. Once again, there will be a special women's exhibition match on the opening weekend to kickoff a week of fun. BB&T Atlanta Open Tournament Director Eddie Gonzalez announced today that 2017 U.S. Open champion, Sloane Stephens, and the 2017 U.S. Open finalist, Madison Keys, will be featured in the special Sunday, July 22, women's exhibition session at 7:30 p.m. Tickets are on sale now for all sessions at

• D.H. has this week’s LLS: Grigor Dimitrov and Richard Gere (American Gigilo years)

• And Carlos, Guadalajara México takes us out with a reader riff: Hola Jon! Wonderful coverage of Indian Wells, thank you. 

DelPo had no fear. He was not praising Federer before and during the match. This is how you play against him. This is why Federer made a lot of mistakes: he zoned out of his comfort play and everyone noticed this by his outbursts. Oh, the old times when the contenders were real rivals in the court, giving it all. A salute to the 1980s and ‘90s. I’ll end by stating that I am promoting pure and honest competition only. I love tennis even more when this happens, like last Sunday. Congratulations to DelPo and may he stay at the top of his game—and attitude—for a long time.


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