Sports

Serena Williams and others decry Indian Wells Tennis Garden CEO's offensive remarks

According to Raymond Moore, chief executive of Indian Wells Tennis Garden, Victoria Azarenka and Serena Williams should have taken a position other than at the baseline in the women's final of the BNP Paribas Open.

They were classier than he was and refuted his foolishly worded comments, Azarenka by being bold and strong in a 6-4, 6-4 upset of the world's No. 1 player and Williams by emphatically expressing her distaste for Moore's contemptible suggestion.

Moore, a former player and a longtime executive here, was asked Sunday at his annual media breakfast about plans to elevate this event above its current Masters 1000 status. He said the men's tour was on board for a possible format change and was asked for the Women's Tennis Assn.'s thoughts on the matter.

"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."

He would have had a point had the discussion been about the celebrity of Federer and Nadal and their success at popularizing the sport. But the topic wasn't that or the quality of men's tennis vs. the quality of the women's game, and his phrasing and imagery were as repulsive as his underlying sentiment.

He later issued a statement apologizing to players and the WTA for "comments that were in extremely poor taste and erroneous," but the damage was done.

WTA CEO Steve Simon said in a statement Sunday night: "As the tournament director of one of the pre-eminent events in professional tennis, the comments made today 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 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 male and female.”

Williams said her immediate reaction was an incredulous "Really?" after becoming aware of his comments via social media.

"Obviously, I don't think any woman should be down on their knees thanking anybody like that," Williams said. "If you read the transcript you can only interpret it one way. I speak very good English. I'm sure he does, too.

"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."

As for who should be thanking whom, she noted the 2015 U.S. Open women's final sold out before the men's final did. "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," she said, perhaps her best return of the day.

Azarenka, who will rise to No. 8 in the world after becoming the first player to defeat Williams four times in a tournament final, said she and other women could best respond to Moore's sentiments with their deeds, not words.

"From my perspective, if we rise above that and keep working hard in everything we do, we're better. We're better at taking opportunities and being graceful," she said. "Why do you have to make the comment? Who cares? Who cares? Simple as that. Just to make more drama or jokes?

"I mean, if that makes that person feel better or bigger or whatever, it's a pretty sad person, I think. Because if you're happy, you don't care what other people do. You just take care of you. I think that's more important to focus on us. That's what women players and examples like Venus and Serena and other players have been doing for -- you know, we got it from Billie Jean King where she proved [to] everybody, Hey, look at me. I started something, so let's go after it."

King said on Twitter she was disappointed with Moore's remarks. "He is wrong on so many levels," she said.

Azarenka played brilliantly Sunday, breaking Williams in the first game of the first set and holding off four break points for Williams in the sixth game and three more in the eighth game. Williams squandered four break points in the second game of the second set but pushed back to break in the eighth game and cut Azarenka's lead to 5-3. Williams held at love in the next game and had two break points in the 10th game but committed three straight mistakes to end a splendid performance by Azarenka, who had been slowed by foot and thigh injuries the last two years.

Azarenka credited Williams' excellence for inspiring her during her rehabilitation. "I'm very honored to play against the best player in the world," Azarenka said.

Azarenka was the better of the two Sunday. Neither had to go down on her knees to thank anyone else for that.

helene.elliott@latimes.com

Twitter: @helenenothelen

Copyright © 2016, Los Angeles Times

UPDATE

March 21, 9:35 a.m.: Adds a statement from WTA CEO Steve Simon.

This column was originally published March 20 at 7:44 p.m.

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