Martina Navratilova has suggested that female players could boycott one of the most prestigious tournaments in tennis after its chief executive caused outrage with remarks that women were “riding on the coattails” of the men’s game.
Raymond Moore, the chief executive of the Indian Wells tennis tournament in California, one of the sport’s biggest outside the four grand slams, sparked controversy on Sunday when he said: “If I was a lady player, I would go down every night on my knees and thank God that Roger Federer and Rafa Nadal were born.”
Moore continued: “They have carried this sport. They really have. When I come back in my next life, I want to be someone in the WTA [Women’s Tennis Association], because they ride on the coattails of the men.”
He later apologised, but the damage had been done. Navratilova, a winner of 18 grand slam singles titles, said: “It is really disheartening to see Ray Moore offer the extremely prejudiced and very old-fashioned statements regarding women tennis players. We have made it this far on our own, without help from male players, and will continue to do so. It would be hard to imagine any women wanting to go and play at Indian Wells if Moore stays as the tournament director.”
The chorus of condemnation had been led by Serena Williams, the winner of 21 grand slam singles titles who, after playing in the final at Indian Wells, called Moore’s comments a disservice to tennis legends such as Billie Jean King, as well as every woman on the planet that had ever tried to stand up for what they believed in.
King reacted to Moore’s comments by writing: “He is wrong on so many levels. Every player, especially the top players, contribute to our success.”
Williams said: “We as women have come a long way. And we shouldn’t have to drop to our knees at any point. I think there are a lot of women out there who are very exciting to watch. I think there are a lot of men who are exciting to watch. I think it definitely goes both ways. I think those remarks are very much mistaken and very, very, very inaccurate.”
The president of the US Tennis Association also attacked Moore’s comments yesterday. Katrina Adams, who played on the WTA Tour for 12 years, reiterated the USTA and US Open’s commitment to player equality. “There is no place in this sport for antiquated, sexist or uninformed ideologies,” she said. “And the comments made in no way reflect the beliefs of the vast majority of those in the tennis world.”
The world’s top-ranked men’s player, Novak Djokovic, also drew criticism after winning his final at Indian Wells on Sunday when he said that he is “completely for women power”, but also suggested that men should earn more prize money because they draw larger crowds. “The stats are showing that we have much more spectators on the men’s tennis matches,” Djokovic said.
Steve Simon, a former tournament director at Indian Wells who now runs the WTA Tour, described the comments from Moore as “extremely disappointing and alarming”.
The Indian Wells tournament is no stranger to brushes with notoriety. In 2001, Williams claimed there was an undercurrent of racism in the crowd and did not play there for another 14 years.
Women’s tennis has fought for recognition ever since the WTA was established in 1973. That same year King played and beat Bobby Riggs during the so-called Battle of the Sexes match in Houston, and the US Open began to pay female players the same prize money as men.
The Australian Open did not follow suit until 2001, and the French Open instituted equal prize money in 2006. It was thanks to Venus Williams’s campaigning that Wimbledon became the last grand slam tournament to pay men and women the same amount of prize money in 2007.
Jo Durie, Great Britain’s former No 1 female player, who turned professional in 1977, said that a lack of rivalries at the top level of the women’s game in recent years may have heightened the debate about the quality of women’s tennis. She said: “In my day, it was Navratilova and Chris Evert, then it was Steffi Graf and Arantxa Sánchez Vicario and Monica Seles, then Jennifer Capriati and Martina Hingis. You wanted to see them playing each other.
“But we haven’t had that really since Venus, Serena and Lindsay Davenport. I think we just need to make the newer players more well-known – maybe that’s something the WTA needs to work on.
“In the 1970s there really was a battle for equality. Everyone was talking about it then, it was huge. I don’t know why we keep comparing men and women. Men are so much stronger than us – that’s just a physical thing that we can’t do much about. But tennis has broken a lot of barriers for women.”
In a statement apologising for his remarks, Moore said: “At my morning breakfast with the media, I made comments about the WTA that were in extremely poor taste and erroneous.
“I am truly sorry for those remarks, and apologise to all the players and to the WTA as a whole. We had a women’s final on Sunday that reflects the strength of the players, especially Serena and Victoria, and the entire WTA. Again, I am truly sorry for my remarks.”
In the aftermath of Djokovic’s comments, a survey by OnePulse asked 1,000 people in the UK whether female players should earn the same as men. 78% of those polled said yes, 14% no, and 8% were unsure.
Asked which type of match they would rather watch, 24% of the respondents said men’s tennis, 11% said women’s, 42% had no preference, and 23% said they would not go at all.
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