Raymond Moore, the tournament director of the BNP Paribas Open, told media on Sunday morning that female tennis players were “very, very lucky” for being able to “[ride on the] coattails” of men, strongly alluding to the opinion that WTA players owed their success to the stars of the men’s game. 21 time Grand Slam champion Serena Williams was quick to hit back at her post-match conference.
Moore’s comments were made a few hours before the ATP-WTA back-to-back finals on Sunday morning.
“In my next life when I come back I want to be someone in the WTA” Moore said. “They don’t make any decisions and they are 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.”
Later that day, Victoria Azarenka defeated Serena Williams, 6-4, 6-4, in the women’s final. This was Williams’ first appearance in the final of the tournament since 2001, when spectators booed her during the final and jeered her sister, Venus, after she withdrew from her semi-final match set to be played against Serena herself.
Their father, Richard Williams, says the family was subjected to racial slurs as they walked to their seats to support Serena. “One guy said, ‘I wish it was ’75; we’d skin you alive.’ […] I had trouble holding back tears. I think Indian Wells disgraced America.”
The comments made my Moore just go to show that sexism and racism, particularly misogynoir, are rife in sporting culture. Not only were Moore’s comments misogynistic, but they were also grossly inaccurate. Serena and Venus managed to pull in a new breed of tennis fan after years of a Sampras/Agassi and Federer/Nadal era. Indian Wells was on the verge of going under for more than a decade until it was bailed out by Larry Ellison, largely due to the Williams sisters’ 14 year unofficial boycott.
During the trophy ceremony of Sunday’s final, Moore said “I would like to take a few seconds of your time to publicly thank Serena, initiating the comeback here at Indian Wells, and putting the bad controversy that we had to bed.”
Despite things to have seemingly blown over, Williams was quick to shut down Moore’s comments in her post-match conference.
“I think those remarks are very mistaken and very, very, very inaccurate.”
“I don’t think any woman should be down on their knees thanking anybody like that,” she said. “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. So I don’t think that is a very accurate statement.”
Williams rejected the claim that Moore’s comments may have been misinterpreted.
“There’s only one way to interpret that,” she said. “ ‘Get on your knees,’ which is offensive enough, and ‘thank a man’? We, as women, have come a long way. We shouldn’t have to drop to our knees at any point.”
She also made reference to last year’s United States Open, where the women’s final tickets sold out before the men’s for the first time in history.
“I’m sorry, did Roger play in that final?” Williams asked. “Or Rafa, or any man, play in that final that was sold out before the men’s final? I think not.”
Williams also paid homage to Billie Jean King, a founder of the WTA and champion for equal prize money for both men and women.
“…I feel like that is such a disservice to her and every female — not only a female athlete but every woman on this planet — that has ever tried to stand up for what they believed in, being proud to be a woman.”
King herself made comments on Twitter condemning Moore’s response.
Disappointed in #RaymondMoore comments. He is wrong on so many levels. Every player, especially the top players, contribute to our success
— Billie Jean King (@BillieJeanKing) March 20, 2016
Moore later issued one of those “heart-felt and totally not contrived” apologies during the men’s final.
“I made comments about the WTA that were in extremely poor taste and erroneous,” he said. “I am truly sorry for those remarks, and apologise to all the players and WTA as a whole. We had a women’s final today that reflects the strength of the players, especially Serena and Victoria, and the entire WTA.”
After defeating Milos Raonic, 6-2, 6-0, in the men’s final, Novak Djokovic also suggested that men were more popular and deserved greater compensation, despite the fact that the Indian Wells, along with the Grand Slam events, offers equal prize money to both men and women.
“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,” Djokovic said. “I think that’s one of the, you know, reasons why maybe we should get awarded more.”
In a somewhat feeble attempt to distance himself from Moore’s comments, Djokovic then added that he had “tremendous respect” for women athletes and was “completely for women power.”
I know for sure that I wouldn’t be as interested in tennis as I am today if it weren’t for champions like Serena Williams. Not only has she continued to pave the way for women in tennis but time and time again, has proven her worth as a positive role model for women all over the world.