Tennis is having a hard time staying out of the news these days. For all the wrong reasons.
First a match fixing scandal engulfed the Australian Open. Then Maria Sharapova admitted to failing a drug test.
Now Raymond Moore, tournament director of likely the most prestigious event outside the four grand slams, is in hot water for derogatory comments he made about women’s tennis.
Serena Williams, arguably the greatest women’s tennis player of all time, reacted swiftly to Moore’s belief that the WTA rode on the “coattails” of men’s tennis.
Moore didn’t stop there, saying that women in the sport should get down on their “knees” and thank Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal for the way they “carried” the sport.
Moore made his comments to reporters before both singles finals were played Sunday at the BNP Paribas Open, better known simply as Indian Wells. Williams fell to Victoria Azarenka before Novak Djokovic thrashed Milos Raonic.
“I don’t think any woman should be down on their knees thanking anybody like that,” Williams told reporters.
“I think Venus, myself, a number of players — if I could tell you every day how many people say they don’t watch tennis unless they’re watching myself or my sister — I couldn’t even bring up that number,” added the 21-time grand slam winner, referring to her older sibling, who has claimed seven majors.
“So I don’t think that is a very accurate statement. I think there are a lot of women out there who are very exciting to watch. I think there are a lot of men out there who are exciting to watch. I think it definitely goes both ways.”
— WTA (@WTA) March 21, 2016
In backing up her statements, Williams pointed to last year’s U.S. Open, when the women’s final sold out before the men’s for the first time. Williams was chasing a calendar-year grand slam, which hadn’t been accomplished since 1988.
“I’m sorry, did Roger play in that final?” Williams, ousted by Roberta Vinci in the semifinals, asked. “Or Rafa, or any man, play in that final that was sold out before the men’s final? I think not.”
Moore, a 69-year-old born in South Africa, caught most people by surprise.
He had earlier said: “In my next life when I come back I want to be someone in the WTA, because they ride on the coattails of the men.
“They don’t make any decisions and they are lucky. They are very, very lucky. If I was a lady player, I’d go down every night on my knees and thank God that Roger Federer and Rafa Nadal were born, because they have carried this sport. They really have.”
Moore later apologized.
Djokovic didn’t shy away from discussing the matter following his 6-2 6-0 victory and reopened the debate about equal prize money.
“I think that our men’s tennis world, ATP world, should fight for more because the stats are showing that we have much more spectators on the men’s tennis matches,” the world No. 1 said. “I think that’s one of the reasons why maybe we should get awarded more.”
“Women should fight for what they think they deserve and we should fight for what we think we deserve. I think as long as it’s like that and there is data and stats available and information, upon who attracts more attention, spectators, who sells more tickets and stuff like that, in relation to that it has to be fairly distributed.”
WTA CEO Steve Simon — Indian Wells’ tournament director before Moore — called Moore’s words “extremely disappointing and alarming.”
“As the tournament director of one of the most preeminent events in professional tennis the comments made today by Raymond Moore were extremely disappointing and alarming,” he said in a statement.
“The WTA stands on its own and was founded on the principles of equality and empowerment. I am proud of all those strong athletes on the WTA who put in hard work and sacrifice every single day.
“Tennis as a whole is enriched by the contributions and accomplishments of every single player both female and male.”