Serena Williams has hit back at Novak Djokovic amid the ongoing dispute over equal pay in tennis, saying if the Serbian had a daughter he should tell her his son deserves higher pay.
Longtime rival Andy Murray also shared his backing for equal pay for male and female players.
Per Liam Corless of the Mirror, Williams said:
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. 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. It is irrelevant. [Djokovic] 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. I think it’s unfair to compare, we have had so many great women champions and players who have brought such great vision to the sport. There have been great men players too, but women’s tennis is the biggest sport for women—period.
Per the Press Association (h/t the Mirror), the 21-time Grand Slam winner's comments come after men's world No. 1 Djokovic said: "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."
He later clarified his comments in a post on Facebook, in which he said they did not properly articulate his views—that all players should fight for what they deserve in terms of fairer distribution of funds, regardless of gender.
Ben Rothenberg of the New York Times was left no clearer on the matter, though:
(…except for blame his initial response on adrenaline, which is one of those pesky hormones.)— Ben Rothenberg (@BenRothenberg) March 22, 2016
The debate over the issue was reignited recently when chief executive of Indian Wells tournament Raymond Moore said the women's game "rides on the coat-tails" of male players such as Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal, per BBC Sport—comments for which he has since resigned his position.
Murray, who in February had a daughter with his wife Kim Sears, said:
One of the things [Djokovic] said was that if women are selling more seats and tickets they should make more but at a tournament like this, for example, if [Williams] is playing on centre court and you have a men’s match with [Sergiy] Stakhovsky playing, people are coming to watch [Williams].
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.
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 capitalise on that—not just the men’s game.
According to Corless, world No. 115 Stakhovsky is also against equal pay, hence his inclusion in the Scot's comments. Murray further criticised Moore:
I think there should be equal pay, 100 per cent, at all combined events. The timing of it [Moore’s remarks] was just so strange, right before a great women’s final, there were 16,000 people in the stadium waiting to see them play.
The whole thing was very strange and very disappointing. I don’t understand at all where he was coming from at all with those comments. It made no sense at all.
Stakhovsky and Murray subsequently argued about the issue on Twitter:
@Stako_tennis as soon as we leave uk territory more people are watching you than Laura? Really?— Andy Murray (@andy_murray) March 23, 2016
@Stako_tennis I played you in a Davis cup match in Ukraine and there must have been a thousand people there max!— Andy Murray (@andy_murray) March 23, 2016
Stan Wawrinka also expressed his belief in equal pay, per Daniel Gonzalez on Twitter:
Per Rothenberg, tennis legend Billie Jean King is not surprised by the support offered by Murray and Wawrinka:
Billie Jean King says she sees it often: men with daughters are more likely to be receptive to equality for women. https://t.co/k62g3Jdb7N— Ben Rothenberg (@BenRothenberg) March 23, 2016
As such a hot topic, it may yet rage on for some time with every player at the top of the game likely to be asked for their take on it.