Novak Djokovic fuels tennis money equality debate
World number one Novak Djokovic has indicated men's tennis should get more prize money than women because it has more spectators as a new controversy over equality in the sport erupted.
After winning the Indian Wells title for the fifth time, the Serbian star said tournament director Raymond Moore was wrong to say that women's tennis is riding on the coattails 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."
"I think that our men's tennis world, ATP world, should fight for more, because the stats are showing that we have much more spectators on the men's tennis matches.
"I think that's one of the ... reasons why maybe we should get awarded more."
Djokovic was one of a number of players to question tournament director Moore who apologised for his comments about the women's game after he was slammed as being 'offensive' by women's number one Serena Williams.
"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, told reporters as his annual press conference on Sunday morning.
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.
"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," Williams said.
There was a swift backlash to Moore's comments, which also included remarks on the physical attractiveness of some rising WTA stars.
"At my morning breakfast with the media, I made comments about the WTA that were in extremely poor taste and erroneous," Moore said in a statement.
"I am truly sorry for those remarks, and apologize to all the players and WTA as a whole."
But Williams, who lost in straights 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."
Williams said she was surprised to find the gender controversy still being raised in a sport 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."
US great Billie Jean King, a tireless promoter of equal opportunity for women in sport, said on Twitter that she was 'disappointed' in Moore's remarks.
"He is wrong on so many levels," King wrote.
Djokovic said Moore's comments were 'not politically correct' but added the matter 'was maybe exaggerated a little bit'.
Djokovic 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," Azarenka added. "It's not just in sports. It's in business. We try to talk about the equality. Sometimes it just gets unrecognized."
WTA Tour chief executive Steve Simon released a statement saying, "As the tournament director of one of the most preeminent 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 those strong athletes on the WTA who put in hard work and sacrifice every single day."