Indian Wells CEO Raymond Moore said that women players ride the coattails of the men in comments before Serena Williams met Victoria Azarenka in the finals of the BNP Paribas Open on Sunday. Later, he apologized, but not before Williams had a chance to react.
"I think the WTA [Women's Tennis Association] -- you know, 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," he said, according to multiple reports. "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 andRafa Nadalwere born, because they have carried this sport. They really have."
Moore, 69, is a former professional player from South Africa who took over as CEO ofIndian Wells Tennis Garden in California in 2012 after being associated with the event for decades.
Williams was asked about Moore's comments in her postmatch press conference.
"Obviously I don't think any woman should be down on their knees thanking anybody like that," she said. "I think Venus (Williams), myself, a number of players have been -- 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 more -- 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. I think those remarks are very much mistaken and very, very, very inaccurate."
Williams was asked if Moore's comments could have been misconstrued.
"Well, if you read the transcript you can only interpret it one way. I speak very good English. I'm sure he does, too," she said. "You know, there's only one way to interpret that. Get on your knees, which is offensive enough, and thank a man, which is not -- we, as women, have come a long way. We shouldn't have to drop to our knees at any point."
Williams said that she was surprised to hear sexist remarks such as Moore's these days.
"Yeah, I'm still surprised, especially with me and Venus and all the other women on the tour that's done well," she said "Last year the women's final at the US Open sold out well before the men. I'm sorry, did Roger play in that final or Rafa or any man play in that final that was sold out before the men's final? I think not. So I just feel like in order to make a comment you have to have history and you have to have facts and you have to know things. You have to know of everything. I mean, 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. So I feel like, you know, 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 and being proud to be a woman."
Talking about the state of women's tennis, Moore said that Williams is "arguably the best female player of all time." But he also said: "I think the WTA have a handful -- not just one or two -- but they have a handful of very attractive prospects that can assume the mantle. You know, [Garbine Muguruza],Genie Bouchard. They have a lot of veryattractiveplayers. And the standard in ladies' tennis has improved unbelievably."
Asked to clarify if he was talking about physical attractiveness or competitive attractiveness, Moore responded: "I mean both. They are physically attractive and competitively attractive. They can assume the mantle of leadership once Serena decides to stop. I think they've got -- they really have quite a few very, very attractive players."
Moore issued a statement later Sunday.
"At my morning breakfast with the media, 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. Again, I am truly sorry for my remarks."
Azarenka defeated Williams 6-4, 6-4 for the women's title. Afterward, she was asked if Moore's apology was a little disingenuous given the nature of his comments.
"I'm trying not to think about it. ... I'm not gonna bring somebody down. I'm just gonna rise above that," Azarenka said. "Today, I think it was a great match. It was a great day for women's sport.
"Why can't we just be happy and enjoy and support each other, because that's what the world is missing a little bit. It's the support towards each other. Not just bashing and, oh, who is prettier or who is this, who has more, who has less. Let's just take care of each other."
Last year at Wimbledon, Azarenka famously spoke out about the apparent double standard in tennis when it comes to grunting during matches, pointing out that while female players are routinely peppered with questions about their on-court noises, the same cannot be said of their male counterparts who grunt just as much.
When asked Sunday about those comments and whether she has embraced the role of being a leader for women as she has gotten older in the sport, Azarenka said, "I believe in giving back to a sport that gave me so much. I'm very passionate. I see how hard it is to make something out of yourself and stand your ground, so I believe that it's my duty for players maybe after me or during this time to really have this respect for our sport."
Information from ESPN's Jim Caple and The Associated Press was used in this report.