#TennisParadise, Lost: Thoughts on an Ugly Day in Indian Wells

INDIAN WELLS, CA - MARCH 20: A general view of Roger Federer of Switzerand in action against Tomas Berdych of Czech Republic during day twelve of the BNP Paribas Open tennis at the Indian Wells Tennis Garden on March 20, 2015 in Indian Wells, California. (Photo by Julian Finney/Getty Images)

(Photo by Julian Finney/Getty Images)

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:

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:

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.

8 Responses

  1. catherine bell
    catherine bell March 21, 2016 at 3:58 am |

    I read that stuff from Ray Moore (I recall him as a prattish hippy with long hair and beads BTW) and I just thought O Yawn. Maybe Moore’s mind is stuck back there in the 70s too.

    Money in sport in the modern world really isn’t related to anything fixed – if sponsors are prepared to pay equal prizemoney for women then there’s no real argument against it. And the sight of millionaire male players behaving as though they’re deprived of something just makes me laugh.

    Next ? Oh, Miami. I suppose that has equal prizemoney too – so let’s hope the tournament has a classsier CEO.

  2. Sabey
    Sabey March 21, 2016 at 10:40 am |

    Thanks for writing this Anusha. It seems that the more things change the more they stay the same. I am used to the ignorance and bigotry of casual tennis fans but when the director of a major tournament expresses these views it is very disheartening.

  3. catherine bell
    catherine bell March 21, 2016 at 11:24 am |

    And as a P.S. – perhaps Djokovic should be sent on an equality training course to bring his ideas up to date.
    Unfortunately when the No 1 player speaks a lot of people listen.

  4. Dennis
    Dennis March 21, 2016 at 1:51 pm |

    If the events were separate, you would see a big disparity in ticket sales and viewership (see the difference between the PGA and LPGA for example). That is a fact. It is simply PC garbage to argue otherwise, and the slams have simply been brow-beaten by feminist bullying into giving equal prize money. Kudos to Moore and Djokovic for having the courage to speak the truth.

  5. catherine bell
    catherine bell March 21, 2016 at 2:38 pm |

    Wouldn’t bother answering your comment (and I’ve seen you elsewhere) except to point out that in fact prizemoney in modern tennis is largely unrelated to ticket sales and viewership. Many factors are involved.

    And, actually, who cares if women get equal prizemoney ? What’s the subtext here ? That women don’t deserve a slice of the very generous cake on offer in tennis ? What’s it matter to anyone else ?

    I think we can guess the answer.

    On the BTL section of a major newspaper online there were over 1000 comments on the issue of equal prizemoney – and having browsed through those comments I can assure you that only a minority were directly engaged with the subject. The rest were the same dreary old sexism and obnoxious references to ‘PC’.

    The positive message from the women at Indian Wells was absolutely right – ‘rise above it’.

  6. Sabey
    Sabey March 21, 2016 at 3:38 pm |

    “PC” as a pejorative term is used by those in power to express dismay at the fact that their unfettered right to attack and disparage those in lesser positions is being challenged.

  7. Patrick of La Verne
    Patrick of La Verne March 21, 2016 at 4:49 pm |

    “If the events were separate, you would see a big disparity in ticket sales and viewership (see the difference between the PGA and LPGA for example). That is a fact”

    Sorry, but it’s not a fact. It’s not even anywhere close to a fact. When Li Na played in the finals of grand slams a few years ago, more than 100 million Chinese tuned in. That is more viewers than the number of Americans who have watched most Super Bowls.

    The Women’s World Cup last year was watched by more Americans than any soccer match ever played, anywhere, by men or women. And it wasn’t even held in this country.

    In gymnastics and figure skating, female athletes draw much bigger viewing audiences than male athletes, and, based on the amount of coverage they get at the Olympics, I suspect that women’s gymnastics is one of the most watched events (men or women) of the summer Olympics, and women’s figure skating (and pairs and dance) is certainly one of the most watched events of the Winter Olympics.


    The NFL would make big money even if they played before empty stadiums every week, thanks to media rights, sponsorships, licensing arrangements etc. The number of fans in the seats at a sporting event is only one factor in determining the interest in and profitability of a sporting event.

    You mention golf, and there is no question but the PGA prize money dwarfs that of the LPGA.

    Unfortunately for the LPGA, the tour has been dominated largely by foreign players for the past twenty years — Sorenstam, Webb, Pak, Ochoa, Ji-yai Shin (briefly), Inbee Park, and Lydia Ko. A number of Americans (Kerr, Creamer, Lewis, Wie, Pressel, Thompson et al) have had successes, but none of them has held the top spot for any length of time. If an American female Tiger Woods were to come along,I think you’d see the LPGA ratings rise considerably.

    I don’t have the numbers in front of me, but I’d be prepared to bet a lot of money that the TV ratings of MEN’s golf have plummeted without Tiger as a drawing card.

    Just a week ago Phil Mickelson, who is certainly no friend of Tiger Woods, pointed out that every pro golfer should be grateful to Tiger Woods. Just as every pro tennis player, MALE or FEMALE, should be grateful for what Federer, Rafa, and Djokovic for their many contributions to the sport.

    That’s what Mr. Moore should have said.

  8. skip1515
    skip1515 March 23, 2016 at 6:59 am |

    Many good points illustrating how Moore’s comments were wrong in so many ways. Let me add another tangential observation I read on another thread, for which I can take no credit (Moore said nothing about this directly btw): as regards the 2 tours at the Big Four tourneys, if equal pay depends on the amount of tennis played, in any way at all, why wasn’t the prize money decreased when the ATP Masters went from 3 of 5 to best of 3?

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