Tennis

Djokovic backtracks on equal prize money issue for men and women

Novak Djokovic talks equal pay at Miami Open

World No. 1 tennis player Novak Djokovic apologizes at the Miami Open for comments he made earlier in the week over equal pay for women in tennis. Billie Jean King and Chris Evert also addressed the issue in a separate conference. Video by Charles
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World No. 1 tennis player Novak Djokovic apologizes at the Miami Open for comments he made earlier in the week over equal pay for women in tennis. Billie Jean King and Chris Evert also addressed the issue in a separate conference. Video by Charles

The world’s top-ranked male tennis player once again backtracked Wednesday in “clarifying’’ what he meant when he set off a firestorm in the tennis world Sunday regarding the issue of equal pay in men’s and women’s tennis.

In a news conference during the first full day of matches at the Miami Open, world No. 1 Novak Djokovic told a packed room: “I never had an issue with the equality within gender and equal opportunities in sport and in any other field of life. That’s all.’’

Djokovic was 40 minutes late to the media gathering because he said he was talking to women’s legends Billie Jean King and Chris Evert, who called their own news conference before his to elaborate on the issue that has spurred talk around the nation. The subject of “Equal Pay for Equal Play’’ was a hot topic on a day that didn’t feature any top-ranked players.

“I feel like what I said several days ago didn’t come across as well to some people,’’ Djokovic said. “I wanted to make sure that everybody understands that my intentions, not for a single second, were wrong and that obviously I feel very sorry if in any way I hurt my female colleague tennis players. I have a very good relationship with all of them. I have a huge respect for all of them.

“...My beliefs are completely in line with gender equality and equal opportunities. We’re all part of the same sport. We all contribute in our own special, unique ways.”

 
Tennis legends Billie Jean King, left, and Chris Evert address the media during a press conference at the Miami Open tennis tournament in Key Biscayne, Florida, on Wednesday, March 23, 2016.PEDRO PORTAL / pportal@elnuevoherald.com

When Djokovic was told he also said he felt men deserve more prize money, the Serb said, “I was referring to the tournaments and the wealth that is distributed toward all the players – high-ranked, low-ranked, female, male, young, old. I was talking in the name of all the players. I think we deserve more of the wealth distribution that is generated in certain tournaments.’’

On Sunday after winning the Indian Wells final, Djokovic, 28, said, “Men attract more attention. 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 get awarded more. Women should fight for what they think they deserve and we should fight for what we think we deserve.’’

The comments came after Raymond Moore, the CEO of the Indian Wells tournament, said Sunday that if he were “a lady player,’’ he’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 has since resigned.

Djokovic began to backtrack Tuesday night when he went on Facebook to say the “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. … As you all know, I care deeply about the future of the game and all of the players. 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.’’

I never had an issue with the equality within gender and equal opportunities in sport and in any other field of life. That’s all.

Novak Djokovic

King and Evert talked for about 45 minutes, with King saying the “silver lining’’ of the firestorm this week has been the “outrage’’ by players and media and the public that has fueled dialogue on the “equality issue.’’

“What’s important is that we encourage each other, that we’re good to each other and kind to each other and really elevate each other always,’’ King, 75, said. “We representatives of tennis, because we have men and women, we’re one of the few that can lead globally on these issues. And that’s what my life’s about. Inclusion, when it’s about all of us, is everything. It’s so obvious. Just put yourself in somebody else’s shoes.’’

Said Evert, 61, who grew up in Fort Lauderdale: “It’s all about buying tickets. It’s all about entertainment value. And the women have certainly have proven themselves to be equal with the men. It has been cyclical as far as different eras. I know the women were bigger draws in certain eras, especially when we had American women at the top and European men at the top. The last couple years have sort of been a golden era for the men’s game.”

On Tuesday, World No. 1 woman Serena Williams said on the heels of Djokovic’s statements: “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.

“It all boils down to that. I would never put a sex against another sex. It’s unfair to compare. We have had so many great women champions and players who have brought such great vision to the sport.’’

Second-ranked Andy Murray of Scotland said on Tuesday that if Serena Williams is playing on Stadium Court that people will come to watch her. “The crowds are coming to watch the women as well,’’ Murray said. “The whole thing just doesn’t stack up -- it changes on a day-to-day basis.’’

Said King: “It’s not a he thing. It’s not a she thing. It’s a we thing.’’

King favors the WTA and ATP merging, but believes her feelings, made public for years, have gone unheeded.

“I just wish we were one association,’’ King said. “We could be so powerful.’’

Serena Williams talks about Novak Djokovic's remarks concerning women tennis players' lack of salary parity versus men's.

Susan Miller Degnan: 305-376-3366, @smillerdegnan

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