[A few months ago, Martina Hingis spoke to the point apparently lost on Moore — the sport’s cyclical nature — when she told me, “I know it sounds like a past player saying, oh, our era was better, but for a few years we were like the men are now, only I think even more different in style.]
By Harvey Araton
The Indian Wells event’s tournament director, Raymond Moore, shown presenting
the runner-up trophy to Serena Williams, said women’s tennis players “ride on the
coattails of the men.” Credit Robyn Beck/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images
Of all the sports platforms from which to suggest that women “go down every night” on their knees and “thank God” for male counterparts to whom, they owe, in effect, their livelihoods, the last one we might have expected it from was tennis.
Because if there were a Supreme Court presiding over global sport, the matter of gender equity as it applies to tennis would for years have been settled law. During the Open era of spiraling commercial gain, Chris Evert brilliantly made that case, forever paired with Martina Navratilova, along with Steffi Graf, Venus and Serena Williams, and Monica Seles, among others.
Did Raymond Moore, the tournament director of the
BNP Paribas Open, who on Sunday claimed that
women “ride on the coattails of the men,” forget the tennis facility in that serves as New York ’s national center is named for someone named
That would be Billie Jean, spiritual queen of the women’s sports gender equity movement.
Good for him, but from what kind of throwback value system did such language originate? The comments went way beyond awkward, well into misogynist and — from a man who is no newcomer to the sport or to this particular tournament — displayed a remarkable case of amnesia relating to what tennis was like before Federer began channeling Baryshnikov in sneakers, joined later by Nadal, the swashbuckling Spaniard.
Does Moore remember that equal pay for women at the Grand Slam events — passionately championed behind the scenes by Venus Williams — grew in large part out of that pre-Federer era when the women were carrying the sport in terms of diverse playing styles, personality and, yes, a healthy dose of competitive hostility?
A few months ago, Martina Hingis spoke to the point apparently lost on Moore — the sport’s cyclical nature — when she told me, “I know it sounds like a past player saying, oh, our era was better, but for a few years we were like the men are now, only I think even more different in style.
“You had the Williams sisters’ power and movement, Lindsay Davenport’s skills, my kind of chess game and Monica Seles still really good after all she went through.”
Let’s not forget Jennifer Capriati — turning 40 this month! — pushing away all the demons of adolescence to win three Grand Slam events and compete vigorously until injuries sidelined her in 2004.
In that turn-of-the-century era, there was even one transcendent player who never won a tournament. Referring to Anna Kournikova, Hingis giggled and added, “And Anna looked pretty — it was nice to see her.”
O.K., so even a woman can stoop to the unhelpful stereotype of feminization.
was guilty of that, too, when he referred to
the promising young players, Eugenie Bouchard and Garbiñe Muguruza, as
“physically attractive and competitively attractive.” Moore
Indian Wells, the target of a Williams family boycott for years after a 2001 controversy that the sisters believed had racial overtones, again made news for the wrong reasons, and
wasn’t the only newsmaker. Moore
Navratilova wasn’t especially impressed by Djokovic’s assertion that equal pay should again be on the table “because the stats are showing that we have much more spectators on the men’s tennis matches.”
“I thought we settled that issue years ago,” Navratilova said.
With good intentions but questionable judgment, Djokovic also ventured into another quagmire when he praised the women for rising above biological challenges.
“You know, the hormones and different stuff — we don’t need to go into details,” he said.
Those details, no, because the mere introduction of the subject seemed like an unsuccessful way for Djokovic to remove his foot from his mouth. If he’d wanted to raise a relevant point about women’s bodies, he might have spoken to the evolved physical nature of tennis impacting its chronology in the form of longer careers that can be far less complicated for men.
Federer has played seamlessly through the birth of four children. Djokovic has remained dominant while becoming a father. But the women for a while have been without the charismatic Grand Slam event champions Kim Clijsters, 32; Justine Henin, 33; and Li Na, 34, all of whom retired to have children.
At 34, Serena plays on, quick to remind Moore and the world that her pursuit of a calendar year Grand Slam was the enduring narrative at the United States Open last summer until her last losing stroke to Roberta Vinci in the semifinals.
Who knows from which side of the sport the next must-see superstars will emerge? Tennis is one sport where that question can at least be raised.
Gender equity is a brain teaser almost everywhere else, a continuing argument about conditions for growth, fairness in news media coverage and multiple other factors.
Mary Jo Kane, an activist in the field, doesn’t consider herself the world’s greatest tennis fan. But as the longtime director of the
’s University of Minnesota for Research on Girls and Women in Sport, she
is more focused on actions, attitudes and, yes, language. Tucker Center
’s comments, she said in a telephone
interview that she wished someone had asked him: “Every time Serena plays a
match that overshadows the men, should they drop to their knees and thank God
for her? And should the top five men in the Moore — and I couldn’t even tell you who they are
— drop to their knees and thank God for Federer and Nadal? Why just the women?” United States
She said it was good to hear
apologize quickly; she hoped he was an outlier with such
thoughts, but “even if that’s the case, he’s also in a position of power.” Moore
To which Nancy Lieberman, the pioneering women’s basketball legend who was with the Sacramento Kings on Sunday night at Madison Square Garden as the N.B.A.’s second female assistant coach, said: “It’s sad that a man in his position would have such a shallow opinion of women, especially standing next to Serena Williams.”
Lieberman, who once trained Navratilova, added, “I’m surprised he was able to keep his job.”
For now, anyway. Given the crudity of
’s assertion, other tournament officials
should be wondering if the imagery of women on their knees, supplicant to men, is
what a major coed tennis tournament wishes to let linger, apology