Novak Djokovic: World No. 1 backtracks on equal pay

Story highlights

Djokovic clarifies comments on Facebook

Had said men deserved more than women

Murray, Williams take issue

CNN  — 

Has peace finally come to tennis’ bitter gender wars – for the time being?

Novak Djokovic was forced to backtrack on comments he made about equal pay after Andy Murray and Serena Williams criticized the men’s No. 1.

Tennis administrator Raymond Moore sparked the gender rancor Sunday when the South African stated at the BNP Paribas Open that women’s pros should “get down” on their knees “every night” and thank Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal for carrying the sport. He subsequently resigned.

Djokovic became entangled in the fallout when discussing remuneration on both tours. Citing attendance and “attention,” Djokovic felt the men deserved more.

Fresh off victory in the men’s final over Milos Raonic, Djokovic may have dug himself into an even deeper hole as he spoke of “hormones” and women’s “bodies” in addressing challenges female players faced.

“Euphoria and adrenalin after the win on Sunday got the best of me and I’ve made some comments that are not the best articulation of my view, and I would like to clarify them,” wrote Djokovic in a Facebook post.

“Tennis helped me so much in my life and being where I am today, I felt the need to speak about the fairer and better distribution of funds across the board – this was meant for both men and women.

“We all have to fight for what we deserve. This was never meant to be made into a fight between genders and differences in pay, but in the way all players are rewarded for their play and effort.

“Tennis is a sport that I love and that gave me the opportunity to help others who still have a long way to go to achieve their dreams. This was my view all along and I want to apologize to anyone who has taken this the wrong way.”

Murray doesn’t hold back

Murray has been an outspoken figure in tennis recently after a match fixing scandal erupted at the Australian Open and Maria Sharapova failed a drug test and the Scot chose not to hold back in discussing gender equality.

“I think there should be equal pay, 100%, at all combined events,” the twice grand slam winner told reporters in Miami, where he usually trains in the off-season, before Djokovic took to Facebook.

“One of the things Novak said was that if women are selling more seats and tickets they should make more but at a tournament like this, for example, if Serena is playing on center court and you have a men’s match with (Sergiy) Stakhovsky playing, people are coming to watch Serena,” added Murray, referring to the outspoken Ukrainian who in the past has said he is not in favor of equal pay.

“The crowds are coming to watch the women as well. The whole thing just doesn’t stack up – it changes on a day-to‑day basis depending on the matches you get,” Murray, who became a dad to daughter Sophia last month, continued.

“Men’s tennis has been lucky over the last nine or 10 years with the players they’ve had, the rivalries which have come out of that. That’s great but the whole of tennis should capitalize on that.”

Murray’s reaction may not be a surprise, since the Scot is one of the few men’s pros to have a female coach – Amelie Mauresmo – and he took to Twitter two years ago to congratulate Gala Leon Garcia when she became the first female captain of Spain’s Davis Cup squad. Garcia, though, was quickly replaced by Conchita Martinez.

Murray, too, is a follower of women’s tennis, expressing his fondness for the games of Agnieszka Radwanska, Caroline Garcia and Karolina Pliskova, for instance.

Yet three years ago, Murray suggested the women should play the best-of-five sets at grand slams, like the men, to justify receiving equal pay at the four majors.

Williams, one grand slam title away from matching Steffi Graf’s Open Era record of 22 majors, has never wavered in her stance. The 34-year-old reiterated her views Tuesday at the tournament she has won a record eight times.

‘Shocking’ for Williams

“If I have a daughter who plays tennis and also have a son that plays tennis, I wouldn’t say that my son deserves more because he is a man,” the American told reporters, also before Djokovic’s online post. “If they both started at three years old I would say they both deserve the same amount of money.

“I have been playing since the age of two and it would be shocking to say my son would deserve more than my daughter.

“Novak is entitled to his opinion but if he has a daughter – I think he has a son right now – he should talk to her and tell her how his son deserves more money because he is a boy.”

Djokovic does indeed have a son, Stefan, who is a year old.

“It all boils down to that,” said Williams. “I would never put a sex against another sex.”

In an interview with CNN, WTA head Steve Simon said economic variables or sets played shouldn’t be considered when dissecting the equal pay debate.

“Look, there’s no room in this world for anything or any perceptions other than equality for all,” Simon said in a phone interview. “There’s nothing acceptable less than equal.

“I don’t think there’s any place in this world for anything other than equal, whether we’re talking gender, race, religion, any of those types of things. I certainly hope that at least within my lifetime we start to get to that place in this world.”

‘Big supporter’ of mixed events

Simon, the former tournament director in Indian Wells, said in a statement in replying to Moore that the WTA “stands on its own” but he admits he is a “big supporter” of mixed tournaments.

“Tennis is the only sport outside of the core Olympic sports where you can watch the best female and male athletes compete at the same time,” the 60-year-old Simon said. “I think it separates tennis from the rest of sport, which everyone is looking for.”

When asked if he wanted more mixed events and fewer women’s only tournaments, Simon’s response was that it was “hard to say.”

Indian Wells and the Miami Open comprise the two biggest mixed-field tournaments in tennis apart from the grand slams, with Madrid and Rome hosting men and women in prestigious French Open warmups in May.

“What I’m saying is that I’m very supportive of mixed events and anytime there’s an opportunity to do a mixed event with the right promoter, right facilities and right infrastructure, I’m very supportive of that and I think it’s in the best interest of tennis to do so,” he said.

“It’s very, very unique and very good for our fans and sponsors. I think it’s a win-win situation for the sport of tennis.”

Williams has rewritten the record books in tennis during her career and Simon, while convinced that younger players will shine when the Florida resident retires, hopes she sticks around for a while longer.

“I’d love to see her play another 10 years,” he said. “I tease her about that and of course I get a roll of the eyes. And appropriately so.”

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