It’s hard to think of a time when the focus was on the clothes that male tennis stars were wearing at a major tournament rather than how they’re playing on court.
But that’s where the women’s game has found itself this week at the US Open after Serena Williams was told to put her black catsuit back in the wardrobe, while French star Alize Cornet was penalized for briefly taking her top off on court.
Cornet has now spoken publicly for the first time about tennis’ “sexism” row, saying comments from a leading French tennis official about William’s catsuit are “10,000 times worse” than her own treatment at Flushing Meadows.
The United States Tennis Association subsequently apologized to Cornet for the court violation she was handed during her match against Sweden’s Johanna Larsson Tuesday.
Cornet was actually readjusting her shirt after putting it on the wrong way round during a 10-minute heat break due to sweltering heat in New York, sparking outcry and claims of double standards for men and women.
Cornet told reporters in New York she “appreciated” the apology, but criticized Bernard Guidicelli, head of the French Tennis Federation, for saying “you have to respect the game and the place,” as he told Tennis Magazine Williams’ skin-tight suit would be banned next year at Roland Garros.
“What Bernard Giudicelli said about Serena’s catsuit was 10,000 times worse than what happened to me on the court yesterday, because he’s the president of French Federation and because he doesn’t have to do that,” Cornet said at Flushing Meadows Wednesday.
The 28-year-old Cornet added Giudicelli “lives in another time,” while elsewhere the drive for sexual equality in tennis was “on the right path” with “everybody working in the same direction.”
“Then we still have some people, like, the president of my federation that lives in another, you know, time, and can still do these kind of comments. They are totally for me shocking, and, I mean, I’m just saying what I think.”
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‘Everything is fine’
Williams wore the black catsuit in her first grand slam match since becoming a mother when she played at Roland Garros in May.
She said the outfit made her feel like a “superhero” but added that it also helped with her circulation after she had issues with blood clots following her pregnancy.
Guidicelli said of the decision to introduce a tighter clothing regulations at Roland Garros: “I think we sometimes went too far. The combination of Serena this year, for example, it will no longer be accepted. You have to respect the game and the place.”
US tennis great Billie Jean King was highly critical of the stance, tweeting: “The policing of women’s bodies must end.
“The ‘respect’ that’s needed is for the exceptional talent @serenawilliams brings to the game. Criticizing what she wears to work is where the true disrespect lies.”
Before the US Open started Williams brushed off the controversy, saying “everything is fine” and that Guidicelli “had been really amazing,” adding “grand slams have a right to do what they want to do.”
Wimbledon has a strict dress code that states clothing, including shoes, be “almost entirely white and this applies from the point at which the player enters the court surround.”
Officials at Roland Garros declined to respond to Cornet’s comments when asked by CNN Sport.
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Conditions have been stifling in New York this week and players have been allowed a 10-minute heat break to shower or take an ice bath and change clothes.
Cornet said she was rushing back from her break and only discovered she had her shirt on the wrong way around only when her boyfriend pointed it out.
“I couldn’t play the whole third set like this,” she said, adding the chair umpire “was probably overwhelmed by the situation.”
Cornet added: “I was surprised when I just changed T-shirt really quick and he gave me the code violation, I didn’t expect it, and I told him it was pretty weird.
“But I don’t involve the USTA in all this, and they apologized very quickly to me, so no problem.”
On Wednesday, USTA spokesman Chris Widmaier told CNN by phone that Cornet was given a code violation for “changing her shirt at the baseline. That was considered unprofessional conduct.”
According to Widmaier, players can change their attire “as long as it is when they are sitting in the chair.”
Former world No.1 Victoria Azarenka said the decision to penalize Cornet was “ridiculous.”
“It was nothing wrong. Nothing wrong, “she told reporters. “It wasn’t anything disrespectful. She literally changed her shirt because it was backwards. So I couldn’t believe this was a conversation.
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“I’m glad they apologized, and I hope this never happens again.”