Top tennis bosses defended prize money equality for men and women Monday while the spectre of an Indian Wells boycott was raised ahead of the ATP and WTA Miami Open.
World number one Serena Williams, a loser in back-to-back finals for the first time since 2004, seeks a fourth consecutive Miami crown and ninth overall while top-ranked Novak Djokovic seeks his sixth Miami title and a record 28th ATP Masters crown.
But turmoil continued across the sport in the wake of disparaging comments about women’s tennis by Indian Wells tournament director Raymond Moore.
Men’s world number one Novak Djokovic subsequently fanned the flames of controversy by suggesting that the disparity in pay was justified.
“What a mess,” tweeted women’s tennis legend Martina Navratilova. “Moore totally blew it and Novak — really?”
In comments to the BBC, Navratilova raised the notion of a women’s boycott of Indian Wells if Moore kept his job.
“It was really disheartening to see Ray Moore offer the extremely prejudiced and very old-fashioned statements regarding women tennis players,” she said. “We have made it this far on our own, without help from male players, and will continue to do so in the future.
“It would be hard to imagine any women to want to go and play at Indian Wells if Moore stays as the tournament director.”
WTA Tour chief executive Steve Simon on Sunday called Moore’s comments “extremely disappointing and alarming” and added, “The WTA stands on its own and was founded on the principles of equality and empowerment.”
ATP president Chris Kermode supported his fellow tour chief on Monday, backing the principle of prize money equality for men and women while admitting those decisions were in the hands of tournament directors.
“Ray Moore’s comments towards women’s tennis were disparaging and made in poor taste, as Ray has subsequently acknowledged,” Kermode said.
“The ATP fully supports equality across society while at the same time acknowledging that we operate in the sports and entertainment business. The ATP seeks to achieve fair compensation for its players by setting minimum prize money levels for ATP events in accordance with the revenues that are generated from men’s professional tennis.
“The ATP also respects the right of tournaments to make their own decisions relating to prize money for women’s tennis, which is run as a separate tour.”
Katrina Adams, the US Tennis Association president and chief executive, made it clear the organizers of the US Open back gender equality for tournament paychecks.
“The USTA and the US Open hold player equality as one of our bedrock principles,” she said. “As the first Grand Slam to award equal prize money, we have endeavored to lead the way for gender equality in sports.
“There is no place in this sport for antiquated, sexist or uninformed ideologies and the comments made yesterday in no way reflect the beliefs of the vast majority of those in the tennis world.”
Top seeds Williams and Djokovic and stars Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal and Andy Murray were among those whose first match dates were unveiled Monday by Miami Open organizers.
Seeds have first-round byes.
Williams will open Thursday afternoon against Japan’s Misaki Doi or American Christina McHale while Djokovic opens Friday night against either Britain’s Kyle Edmund or Czech Jiri Vesely.
Argentina’s Juan Martin Del Potro, the 2009 US Open winner, faces countryman Guido Pella on Wednesday with third-seeded Federer to face the winner Friday afternoon.
Two-time Miami champion Andy Murray, the second seed from Britain, opens Saturday afternoon against either Denis Istomin of Uzbekistan or Borna Coric of Croatia, while Spanish fifth seed Nadal meets either Bosnian Damir Dzumhur or Argentina’s Leonardo Mayer.
Play opens Tuesday with 12 first-round WTA matches while Murray, the 2009 and 2013 winner who lost to Djokovic in last year’s final, will enjoy another day of practice and family time at his US “home” event.
Wife Kim and newborn daughter Sophia are at their nearby home.
“I spend a few months a year in Miami for my training blocks and my place is only half an hour from Key Biscayne, so this tournament is as close as it gets to home when I’m stateside,” Murray said on his website.