Victoria Azarenka, right, and Serena Williams had some fun after Azarenka received the winner’s trophy. Credit Julian Finney/Getty Images
INDIAN WELLS, Calif. — The final Sunday of the BNP Paribas Open, one of the biggest joint ATP-WTA events outside the Grand Slam tournaments, is often a showcase for tennis’s superstars, with the women’s and men’s finals played back to back.
A few hours before those matches began, though, the spotlight instead was on Raymond Moore, the tournament director, who told the news media Sunday morning that female tennis players were “lucky” and owed their status to stars of the men’s game.
“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,” Moore said. “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.”
Hours later, Victoria Azarenka defeated Serena Williams, 6-4, 6-4, in the women’s final. It was Williams’s first appearance in the final of the tournament since 2001, when she was jeered throughout the match, causing her not to return to the event until last year.
During the trophy ceremony, 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.”
But a new controversy was beginning. Williams saw Moore’s remarks before her postmatch news conference and quickly denounced them.
“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.”
“I think there is 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.”
Williams rejected a notion that Moore’s comments could have been misconstrued.
“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.”
Williams expressed particular shock that Moore would make such comments after last year’s United States Open, when excitement over her Grand Slam bid caused tickets to the women’s final to sell out before the men’s final for the first time in tournament 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.”
<p">Williams and Azarenka invoked Billie Jean King, a founder of the WTA and a champion of equal prize money for women.
“You look at someone like Billie Jean King who opened so many doors for not only women’s players but women’s athletes in general,” Williams said. “So, 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.”
Azarenka added: “I think it’s our duty to keep just working hard through whatever comments there is. We’ve got to rise above that.”
King said on Twitter that she was disappointed by Moore’s remarks.
“He is wrong on so many levels,”King wrote. “Every player, especially the top players, contribute to our success.”
Moore created a further stir by saying the women’s game was poised for success in the future with “very attractive prospects,” like Eugenie Bouchard and Garbiñe Muguruza, whom he later clarified were “physically attractive and competitively attractive.”
During ESPN’s broadcast of the subsequent men’s final, the commentator Patrick McEnroe called on Moore to step down.
“That was completely unacceptable, I’m absolutely livid,” McEnroe said.
The tournament issued an apology from Moore 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 apologize 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.”
Moore, a 69-year-old South African, is a former pro player and helped build the Indian Wells tennis center and tournament. He took over as tournament director this year when Steve Simon stepped down to become chief executive of the WTA.
In a statement, Simon called Moore’s comments “extremely disappointing and alarming.”
“The WTA stands on its own and was founded on the principles of equality and empowerment,” Simon said. “I am proud of all the 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 player, both female and male.”
Moore was not alone in making controversial statements about the relative value of men’s and women’s tennis Sunday.
After defeating a hobbled Milos Raonic, 6-2, 6-0, in the men’s final, top-ranked Novak Djokovic, in response to Moore’s comments, also suggested that men were more popular and deserved greater compensation. Indian Wells, along with the Grand Slam events and some other joint tournaments, offers equal prize money to 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.”
He added: “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.”
Djokovic then said that he had “tremendous respect” for female athletes and was “completely for women power.”
“Knowing what they have to go through with their bodies — and their bodies are much different than men’s bodies — they have to go through a lot of different things that we don’t have to go through,” he said. “You know, the hormones and different stuff — we don’t need to go into details. Ladies know what I’m talking about. Really, great admiration and respect for them to be able to fight on such a high level.”