It takes a lot of nerve to call a place #tennisparadise. But, amidst the clear skies and towering mountains of the California desert, the manicured lawns of the Indian Wells Tennis Garden make a strong case for the name. From the perfectly placed lawn chairs where spectators can take a break from the desert heat, to the luxury of having Nobu, a world class sushi restaurant, on site, it often feels as if no effort has been spared in creating an environment where tennis can exist in its ideal form.
On Sunday, however, the statements of Ray Moore, the CEO of the Indian Wells Tennis Garden, have revealed a true disregard for the WTA and its players that makes a mockery of Indian Wells’ self-proclaimed status as #tennisparadise. Specifically, Ray Moore made the following remarks to the press in advance of the women’s and men’s finals:
Indian Wells CEO Raymond Moore's remarks this morning not likely to delight the WTA, its players, or fans: pic.twitter.com/56zSV0SK2X
— Ben Rothenberg (@BenRothenberg) March 20, 2016
Where does one even start to address these comments? First of all, it is absurd to think that any ATP player has carried the WTA tour. The fact of the matter is that the single largest tennis story to emerge over the last decade, if not more, was Serena Williams’ quest for the calendar year Grand Slam last year. In fact, as Serena herself pointed out in response to Moore’s comments, the U.S. Open women’s final sold out well before the men’s final because spectators wanted to a chance to see history being made. Second, the relative popularity of the men’s and women’s tours fluctuates depending on the players involved — in 2005, the women’s Wimbledon final between Venus Williams and Lindsay Davenport attracted 1 million more viewers than Roger Federer’s defeat of Andy Roddick for the men’s title that year. Maybe I missed it, but I don’t recall any tournament directors offering to pay the WTA extra that year, or any other year where the women outdrew the men.
But this type of logic still puts female tennis players in the position of having to justify their place in tennis, and that is an argument that never had a place in the sport. It starts from an erroneous assumption that men’s tennis has value, while women’s tennis does not. Women’s tennis has more than proven its value time and time again, despite the short shrift it has often gotten from tournament organizers, journalists, and, unfortunately, ATP players who all-too-often see the fight for equal prize money has a zero sum game. But, more on them later.
The fact of the matter is, today’s comments by Ray Moore made it abundantly clear that the WTA’s fight for respect is far from over. A quick review of the scheduling for Stadium 1 at Indian Wells over the past week shows that, starting on March 10, the first day in which the men and women were playing first round matches, there was only one day where there were more WTA matches than ATP matches on Stadium 1, March 11, and for 4 of the next 6 days, there were 4 ATP matches scheduled for Stadium 1, while only 2 WTA matches were scheduled for Stadium 1 on each of those days. Moreover, while most doubles matches — including those featuring Rafael Nadal and Juan Martin del Potro — were scheduled for outside courts, of the 5 doubles matches that were played on Stadium 1, only 1 was a WTA doubles match, and that was the women’s doubles final. It’s hard to be a draw, if you don’t get on the stage.
It also doesn’t help when the number one men’s player reacts to Moore’s statement with the following:
Novak Djokovic weighs in on Ray Moore's remarks, equal prize money, and…female hormones? This was…not his best work. pic.twitter.com/dauOSP7iru
— Ben Rothenberg (@BenRothenberg) March 20, 2016
This isn’t the first time, or the second time, or even the third time that an ATP player has said something ignorant about his WTA colleagues. From Justin Gimelstob’s disgusting rant in 2008 to Jo-Wilfried Tsonga’s clueless theories on hormones, to Sergiy Stakhovsky’s homophobic comments last year, these ugly, prejudiced statements appear again and again. None of these players has faced any consequences or censure for these statements. Yet, if we changed the group being denigrated from women to a racial, religious or ethnic minority, it’s hard to imagine that any player who made these statements would continue to have a place in the sport.
The specter of equal prize money is often given as the reason to discriminate against, or at least to denigrate the WTA tour. The fact of the matter is that stars are the draw for many, if not most, spectators of the sport. No tennis player is paid exactly his or her exact worth at a tournament — the stars of both tours do subsidize the less prominent, who, in turn, enable tournament organizers to stage tournaments with a full field. Joint tournaments, such as Indian Wells, provide tournament organizers with at least twice as many stars to market, than tournaments featuring only ATP or WTA players. This is a boon to organizers — both in prestige and revenue, and, while some, like Moore, may begrudge the WTA their share of the take, the presence of WTA players at the tournament is an essential part of its appeal, and integral to Indian Wells’ claim to be the “fifth” Slam.
There has to be zero tolerance for the ignorance we saw from Ray Moore. The fact that Moore was the public face of the tournament for the trophy presentations after making these remarks is inexcusable. And, ATP players would be well served to consider the collective good before spouting off about equal prize money — having more stars to draw people to the sport can only help both tours. As for those dubious theories about female biology, it’s disturbing that they persist — the idea that women can’t be rational due to hormonal surges is deeply misogynistic and denies women the basic respect we deserve.
Indian Wells has often represented itself as the Platonic ideal of tennis, but it is up to us to decide what tennis paradise looks like. Ultimately, no amount of fancy sushi restaurants or beautiful scenery can create #tennisparadise, if those who organize the tournament don’t respect half of the players who have helped to build the tournament to be what it is today. We deserve better.