INDIAN WELLS (California) • World No. 1 Novak Djokovic has indicated that men's tennis should get more prize money than women's because it attracts more spectators, as a new controversy over equality in the sport erupted yesterday.
After winning the Indian Wells title for the fifth time on Sunday by beating a hobbling Milos Raonic 6-2, 6-0, the Serbian said tournament director Raymond Moore was wrong to say that women's tennis is riding on the coat-tails of the men's game.
Djokovic said women "fought for what they deserve and they got it". But he added that the men's Association of Tennis Professionals (ATP) "should fight for more".
He said: "I think that our men's tennis world should fight for more, because the stats are showing that we have much more spectators. I think that's one of the reasons why maybe we should get awarded more."
Djokovic was among a number of players to question Moore, who apologised for his comments after he was slammed as being "offensive" by women's No. 1 Serena Williams.
GOD'S GIFTS TO WOMEN
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.
RAYMOND MOORE, Indian Wells tournament director, on the two men's influence on tennis.
"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," Moore, a 69-year-old former player from South Africa, said at his press conference on Sunday morning.
NOT KNEELING TO ANYONE
We, as women, have come a long way. We shouldn't have to drop to our knees at any point.
SERENA WILLIAMS, women's world No. 1, was less than impressed with Moore.
Williams was scathing in her response. "Obviously, I don't think any woman should be down on their knees thanking anybody like that," she said.
'WE BRING IN THE FANS'
Our men's tennis world should fight for more, because the stats are showing that we have much more spectators. I think that's one of the reasons why maybe we should get awarded more.
NOVAK DJOKOVIC, men's world No. 1, believes men must be rewarded as the bigger draw at tournaments.
"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."
There was a swift backlash to Moore's comments, which also included remarks on the physical attractiveness of some rising Women's Tennis Association (WTA) stars.
"You know, Garbine Muguruza, Genie Bouchard. They have a lot of very attractive players," he said.
Asked if he was referring to Bouchard and Muguruza's looks, Moore said: "No, no, no, I don't - I mean both. They are physically attractive and competitively attractive."
Moore later said in a statement: "I made comments about the WTA that were in extremely poor taste and erroneous. I am truly sorry for those remarks and apologise to all the players and WTA as a whole."
But Williams, who lost 6-4, 6-4 to Victoria Azarenka of Belarus in the women's final, lambasted Moore.
"You know, 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."
The American said she was surprised to find the gender controversy still being raised in a sport that has pioneered equal compensation for women competitors - sometimes over the objections of their male players.
"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," said Williams.
US great Billie Jean King, a tireless promoter of equal opportunity for women in sport, said on Twitter that she was "disappointed" with Moore's remarks. "He is wrong on so many levels," she wrote.
Djokovic said Moore's comments were "not politically correct" but added the matter "was maybe exaggerated a little bit".
The Serb said he has "tremendous respect" for women in tennis especially as they have to "go through a lot of different things that we (men) don't have to go through. You know, the hormones and different stuff."
Azarenka said men rarely find themselves the subject of such insulting remarks as those made by Moore.
"I think it's something that we have to work through as women," she said. "Men don't get those comments. I think it's still a problem in the world."
WTA Tour chief executive Steve Simon released a statement, saying: "As the tournament director of one of the most pre-eminent events in professional tennis, the comments made by Raymond Moore were extremely disappointing and alarming.
"The WTA stands on its own and was founded on the principles of equality and empowerment. I am proud of all those strong athletes on the WTA who put in hard work and sacrifice every single day."
AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS