Venus Williams' fight for equal pay featured in new ESPN doc

An ailing back may have kept Venus Williams out of this year’s Wimbledon, but her imprint on the tournament is undeniable. The five-time Wimbledon champ was instrumental in the fight to get female players equal pay at tennis’ premiere Grand Slam.

Wimbledon was the last of tennis’ four major Grand Slam tournaments to offer equal prize money to men and women, doing so in February, 2007.

As detailed in Christopher Clarey’s excellent New York Times article, Wimbledon’s Chairman Tim Phillips cited “overall progression” on the issue and “broader social factors,” as the basis for the decision.

A new ESPN documentary, Venus Vs., explores the pivotal role Williams played in getting Wimbledon to change its rules. She first shared her belief in equal pay in 2005 during a meeting with top Wimbledon officials.  Her inspiration? Billie Jean King. 

A game-changing editorial

Williams penned an op-ed in The Times of London the following year. Simply put, the op-ed was a big deal:

“I intend to keep doing everything I can until Billie Jean’s original dream of equality is made real,” she wrote then. “It’s a shame that the name of the greatest tournament in tennis, an event that should be a positive symbol for the sport, is tarnished.”

In a brief trailer from the film, Billie Jean King offers Williams serious praise: “You need someone to kind of be the single player that will speak up. And that was Venus Williams.”

Other players such as Maria Sharapova and Jennifer Capriati joined Williams’ calls for equal pay. Williams won her last Wimbledon Championship in 2008. She last reached the tournament’s final in 2009.

She lost to her younger sister Serena, tennis’ current world No. 1.

‘Venus Vs.’ premieres tonight at 8 p.m. ET on ESPN.

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