Naomi Osaka says she’s planning to donate the prize money she earns at the Western & Southern Open this week to earthquake-relief efforts in Haiti. If she wins the tournament, her contribution will be $255,220. That’s a tidy sum, but if the winner of the men’s event in Cincinnati did the same thing, it would be an even tidier $391,240.

Since the start of the pandemic last spring, “unity” has been the most prevalent buzzword in pro tennis. With tournaments canceled, economies struggling, and the future uncertain, it made sense to think about consolidating and combining forces. Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal talked about a tour merger. ATP chief Andrea Gaudenzi talked about a united governing body. Vasek Pospisil talked about a dual-gender player union. The WTA changed its tournament branding system to match the ATP’s and, ostensibly, create less confusion for fans. Gaël Monfils and Elina Svitolina even got married. This week the tours announced that they’ll co-produce a digital show, as part of the series “Tennis United: Crosscourt,” about the couple.

For the first time, this year’s big summer hard-court events, the National Bank Open in Canada and the Western & Southern Open in Cincinnati, are billed as ATP and WTA Masters 1000 events. The WTA’s old Premier series has been jettisoned in the name of unity. Branding-wise, that’s meant to indicate that these events are of equal stature, and that they’re part of the sport’s top tier of tournaments outside of the Grand Slams. Money-wise, though, there’s still a difference: In Canada this year, the men made $3,487,915 and the women $1,835,400; in Cincinnati, the men’s purse is $4.8 million, the women’s $2.1 million.


That’s because, while the tournament names have changed on the women’s side, their structure has stayed the same. There’s equal prize money at the WTA events that used to be called Premier Mandatories, in Indian Wells, Miami, and Madrid (the fourth WTA Premier Mandatory, the China Open, where the women earn more than the men, has been cancelled for the second straight year). But Canada and Cincinnati, which are owned by Tennis Canada and the USTA, respectively, were never in that top-tier category on the WTA side, and still aren’t now. Thus, the pay differential.

Are you confused all over again?

Tennis is still ahead of most other sports in terms of pay equity. The majors all offer equal prize money, and so do the big dual-gender tournaments I mentioned above. Talk of prize-money increases has also been tabled across the board. At the same time, the talk of uniting over the last year has been welcome. If tennis wants to see an example of a successful tour merger, it can look to one of its little-brother sports, squash, which has seen prize-money rise for both genders since the men and women aligned their business interests and formed one tour. Though, as one female squash pro told me, a few of the men have been “salty” on the subject.,


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That will likely be true in tennis as well. Will the men believe it’s in their interest to join with the women, to share sponsors and TV deals and market themselves together? It’s safe to say that will only happen if they can see a monetary benefit from it. But if Cincinnati is any harbinger, the calculations could change. The men’s bankable stars, Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal, and Novak Djokovic, are absent, and all of them will be playing less often in the years ahead. That has left Osaka as the most recognizable name in either draw in Cincinnati, with Coco Gauff not far behind among Americans.

On Wednesday in Cincy, we saw duel-gender tennis at its strongest. During the day, Osaka and Gauff filled the seats in the main stadium and lived up to their billing with a tense and well-played match. In the evening, two future male stars, Stefanos Tsitsipas and Sebastian Korda, did the same. To my mind, the matches were equally worth watching, and the players equally worth paying.