Coco Gauff strikes it rich! US Open champion is one of seven tennis stars in the top 10 best-paid sportswomen of 2023… but the WTA cannot afford to be complacent after dysfunctional year
- A list of the top 10 highest-paid female athletes across 2023 has been released
- Seven tennis stars make it which demonstrates the sport’s earning potential
- However, after a dysfunctional year the WTA cannot afford to be complacent
Fifty years after Billie Jean King founded the WTA Tour, she can look at the list of highest-paid female athletes in 2023 with pride.
For even after the crises of a non-vintage season in which they were beset with problems — some self-inflicted — seven of the 10 who were the best rewarded this year come from women’s tennis.
The tour King helped create still enriches its players in a way that has other pursuits looking on with envy, her legacy so far strong enough to withstand the blunders of those in charge.
The figures emerge at a time when the visibility and appeal of women’s sport is sharply increasing as a whole, but as yet the world’s premier racket game remains at the top of the pile.
How much longer this will last is open to conjecture, and women’s tennis cannot afford too many more years like 2023.
US Open champion Coco Gauff leads a list of the 10 best-paid sportswomen across 2023
Fifty years after Billie Jean King founded the WTA Tour, she can look at the list with pride
The retreat from its principled stand on former player Peng Shuai and China following her allegations of sexual assault against a former vice-premier; controversies over the treatment of Ukrainian players amid Russia’s invasion; a shambolic year-end championships in Mexico and generally lacklustre marketing have been among the issues facing it in the recent past.
Emerging from it all is a colour-coded graph from American sports media company Sportico which shows that things are really not so bad, in spite of the WTA leadership which has been attracting such scrutiny. Martina Navratilova is among those who want chief executive Steve Simon replaced at the top.
Such graphs from the world of professional sport always attract attention, and always they require context.
For a start, the numbers will not be completely accurate. Prize money is a matter of record, but supplementary figures, including appearance fees, are often the subject of confidential contracts. Agents, wise to how widely seen these tables are, have been known to inflate what they are bringing in for their clients.
Of the seven tennis players in the top 10 — in addition to skier Eileen Gu, gymnast Simone Biles and golfer Nelly Korda — Iga Swiatek had the most successful year on court, followed by Aryna Sabalenka, who was adjudged to have the highest ratio of official prize money to overall earnings.
Contrastingly, it will not go unnoticed that two of the highest-paid barely played or did not play at all. Naomi Osaka, returning next month, last hit a ball in anger in September 2022 and welcomed her baby daughter into the world in July. Emma Raducanu, meanwhile, played just 10 matches and comes in at 187th on the prize money list for the women’s tour in 2023.
Both make the top 10 courtesy of the multi-year endorsement contracts they signed this year off the back of past achievements.
The lasting effect of that 2021 US Open final is illustrated by Raducanu’s opponent, world No 20 Leylah Fernandez, coming 13th on the overall list with $5million (£3.97m) of personal deals. Whether the commercial activity has been detrimental to their performance is another matter.
The disparity in results to earnings is not just a phenomenon in the women’s game. According to a list published by Forbes, the only tennis player in the men’s global top 10 is Roger Federer on $95m, and he retired just after Osaka began her long hiatus in September of last year.
Further proof that earning power in modern sport is not an exact meritocracy is the fact that US Open champion Coco Gauff heads the women’s list. This will be largely down to her nationality, the attention she has long since garnered from her days as a teen prodigy, and the sheer magnetism of her personality.
Although tennis remains number one for individual women — for now at least — Billie Jean’s battle for equal pay goes on. This year 69 men earned more than $1m (£790,000) on court compared to only 42 female players.
Emma Raducanu makes it in fourth with earnings of £12.9m, despite a difficult year on court
Iga Swiatek – who ended the year at No 1 in the singles rankings – was behind Gauff in second
That gap would be wider but for two particular factors, one more obvious than the other. The first is that the all-powerful Grand Slam events pay the same to men and women, dividing up £190m between them this year.
The second is that women feel more able to play doubles than men. In many cases their finances are bolstered by being able to participate extensively in that.
The overall picture is that women’s tennis has an intense level of global competition, but those who rise to the top can still expect unparalleled rewards.
That said, the WTA cannot afford to show any complacency, or the kind of dysfunction which was apparent this year, if they want to maintain that position.
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