- Wimbledon 2002 - Show 'em the money Wimbledon 2002 Wimbledon 2002
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Thursday, July 17
Show 'em the money
By Ray Ratto

Pete Sampras didn't get much of a break from Wimbledon when he needed it, and he's come as close as a player can come to owning the joint. He had a rib strain, they told him to take a couple of hours, rub some dirt on it, and go play.

It is, after all, the Wimbledon way. When the folks who run the most prestigious of all tennis deals give in, they do it grudgingly, for only the highest profiles, and usually only halfway.

Venus and Serena Williams
Venus and Serena Williams have helped to make women's tennis more compelling than their men's counterpart.
Ask any woman who has ever noticed the discrepancy in prize money.

But the times, they may be a changin'. Not this time, of course, but maybe next, and only if we get a reprise of the Williams vs. Williams final of a couple of weeks ago.

The balance of interest in tennis is clearly in the hands of WilliamsCo, and its dual CEOs, Venus and Serena (or if you must, Serena and Venus). With Sampras fighting off a series of birthdays and injuries, Andre Agassi's influence on the wane and the younger Turks not yet ready for the primest time, the men have been biding their time while the women wax ascendant.

Or, more precisely, WilliamsCo. As advertised long ago by their ever charming father, Richard, V. and S. are the dominant figures in the game, and the bronze medalist, Jennifer Capriati, seems to be losing ground as the contrarian's alternative.

Given that, all WilliamsCo needs to do between now and the end of the U.S. Open is cement its dominance of both the court and the market to come back at Wimbledon and bring up this touchy matter of the prize money.

We already know they are strong-willed enough to broach the subject, and Richard Williams is ornery enough to get loud about it. Now they just need to choke the field in the next 14 days to put themselves in position to actually try it.

Battle of the sexes
A look at purse distributions for men's and women's tournament winners at professional tennis' four majors:
Tournament Men Women
U.S. Open $900,000 $900,000
Wimbledon $756,000 $700,000
French Open $686,135 $668,981
Australian Open $538,000 $538,000
It won't be easy, mind you. The folks who run the grounds are notoriously flinty when it comes to unruly players complaining about conditions. They have faced down the stars before, flying the flag of "Where you gonna play, The Netherlands?"

It always has worked. They give in a little, and say "No" a lot. And when "No" isn't sufficient, Option B is usually, "So take a hike. We can always find someone to take a trophy from some member of the royal family."

WilliamsCo, though, presents a different problem. While they are not yet Tiger WoodsCo, guiding the television ratings by his very presence (or lack thereof), they are getting close. Other than Capriati, who else is there? Lindsay Davenport, Monica Seles and Martina Hingis are up on blocks, and Anna Kournikova is as relevant to the tennis world as Christy Turlington.

Thus, it's WilliamsCo or nothing, and they know it. Better than that, they like it. It's what they've aimed for since, well, since almost the in utero part of their careers.

They are willing to go it alone, which given their popularity with the rank and file is the likeliest scenario if they choose to take on this fight. They bring with them their prodigious talents, parents ready to go deep on principle, and the distance they are endeavoring to put between themselves and their contemporaries.

Could they win? At best, even money. Wimbledon handles threats with a mallet-like public relations sense and a willingness to hold out on its own behalf until hell builds a ski resort. On this issue, WilliamsCo has met its equal.

But the fight will be well worth it. Nothing entertains quite like two powerful entities, both believing they have all the clout and all the leverage, and willing to exercise it upon the skulls of their opposites. We can only hope it comes down as advertised because we can imagine no more equal fight.

Unless, of course, Kournikova became an actual tennis player with an actual win or four on her resume, and threw her weight with WilliamsCo. Then I'd like to put a few quid on the players' side -- just for the hell of it.

Ray Ratto is a columnist with the San Francisco Chronicle and a regular contributor to

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