WHEN BILLIE Jean King won Wimbledon in 1968, she was paid $1,463, or 37.5 percent of Rod Laver's winnings. In time, the gap narrowed; last year the female champion was paid just 4.6 percent less than her male counterpart (and a good deal more than Ms. King -- $1,117,000). The narrowed disparity by that point seemed almost deliberately insulting. Or, as Ms. King told us yesterday, "It's not about the money. It's about the message." So it was commendable that the All-England Club finally decided yesterday to award equal prize money, and maddening that it took so long.
In deciding to award equal money across the board, starting with this summer's championships, Wimbledon joins other Grand Slam events, not to mention the 21st century. The U.S. Open and the Australian Open have long had equitable prize money, and last year the French Open for the first time paid the same amount to its men's and women's champions, although it still pays differently for other rounds. No doubt that increasing isolation was a factor in Wimbledon's decision.
Then, too, the club's argument that men should be paid more because they play best-of-five-set matches, compared with women's best of three, became laughable in the face of such memorable contests as Venus Williams's win in 2005. Ms. Williams came from match point down to win the longest-ever women's final. That athletes such as Ms. Williams and Ms. King have contributed immensely to tennis and should be paid accordingly was undeniable. And it took only 123 years.