The Italian Open commenced amidst great excitement in the historic city of Rome just last week, and true to the nature of most high-profile tournaments, two compelling off-court issues have emerged, captivating the attention of both fans and pundits alike.
Rome has been faced with inclement weather since the tournament commenced, which has understandably deterred fans from attending the outdoor matches, with several of the show courts also failing to attract big crowds, despite all of the game’s top players taking part in the event.
EMPTY SEATS IN ROME
World No.1 Novak Djokovic made his return to the ATP Tour after his latest injury lay-off on Friday night, yet his match against Tomas Martin Etcheverry was played before a sparse crowd.
While AS Roma head coach José Mourinho was in the stands to watch Djokovic win 7-6(5) 6-2, the vast swathes of empty seats have been put down to the lavish ticket prices set by tournament organisers.
The best non-corporate hospitality tickets to watch Djokovic in his first match in Rome were on sale for €157 and as is the norm for tennis events, prices will rise each day as we edge towards the finals this weekend.
If you are looking for a ticket to next Friday’s men’s semi-finals, you must be prepared to pay €341 for a courtside seat and €312 for a seat higher in the stands.
Prices for the men’s final next Sunday can be seen on the official ticket website, with courtside options available for a wallet-busting €822, with the cheapest tickets costing a whopping €287.
By contrast, the ticket price for the prestigious men’s and women’s finals at Wimbledon are priced at £255 for all areas of Centre Court, which converts to around €290.
Amazon Prime commentators raised the issue of ticket pricing during the Djokovic v Etcheverry match, with former British No. 1 Laura Robson also suggesting that price is hampering the spectator numbers.
“I think it’s a silly decision,” declared Robson on the ticket price issue, who suggested the cheaper ground passes were more attractive to spectators.
“This is such a good event, such a great opportunity to get more people into seats.
“We have seen every day on the outside courts how packed it has been. Every court has been full. That’s what you want to see.
“It is very rare for Djokovic that he is not playing in front of a packed stadium. There are still enough people here to make noise, but it feels like this is an opportunity missed.”
Equal prize money
Another debate that will continue to rumble on as we reach the conclusion of the tournament is the discussion over prize money.
The ATP Tour and WTA Tour opted to make the Italian Open an event featuring both male and female players this year, ensuring there is double the excitement for fans to lap up.
Yet the men’s champion will collect prize money of €1,105,265, while the women’s winner will be handed just €521,754.
The ATP and WTA have their own sponsorship and TV deals and the harsh reality right now is men’s tennis is viewed as the more valuable commodity for the media.
“I don’t see why we have to wait,” said world No.7 Ons Jabeur. “It’s really frustrating. It’s time for change. It’s time for the tournament to do better.”
While the four Grand Slam tournaments all offer equal prize money – even though men play best-of-five-set matches and women only play best-of-three – the chasm in prize money remains a big issue in the wider game.
READ MORE: Our All Court Tennis Club postcard from Rome