NEW YORK (Reuters) - Women and men may receive equal pay for work at Grand Slams but a double standard that surfaced at the U.S. Open when Alize Cornet was slapped with a code violation for changing her shirt on court continued to spark outrage over equality on Wednesday.
The United States Tennis Association (USTA) was in full damage control mode defusing a controversy that erupted on Tuesday after the Frenchwoman noticed she had put her shirt on backwards off court during a heat break.
When she realised her mistake, Cornet walked towards the back of the court pulling off her top, briefly exposing her sports bra, before slipping it back on the right way round and drawing a code violation from umpire Christian Rask.
The decision to penalise Cornet triggered a social media storm with many people labelling the umpire’s decision as sexist.
Male players frequently change or remove their shirts between games and sometimes sit shirtless for extended periods of time in their chairs during changeovers.
Cornet said she was surprised to wake up on Wednesday to a full-blown controversy and attempted to downplay the incident.
“For sure, the women are treated a little bit differently,” admitted Cornet, who ended up losing her first-round match to Sweden’s Johanna Larsson. “I think it gets much better, especially in the tennis.
“I want to be clear about it and I didn’t take it that bad. I was just maybe disturbed for 10 seconds and that was it.”
While Cornet accepted the incident with good humour and grace others were not so quick to forgive.
“I believe that should never happen,” fumed Victoria Azarenka following her second-round match on Wednesday. “If I would say my true feelings, it would be bleeped out, because I think it was ridiculous.
“It was nothing wrong. Nothing wrong. It wasn’t anything disrespectful. I’m glad they apologised, and I hope this never happens again.”
Realising it had stepped on a public relations landmine, the USTA was quick to issue a statement saying the code violation was wrong while the WTA leapt to Cornet’s defence, labelling the penalty unfair.
While Cornet was willing to extend the USTA an olive branch she was far less forgiving to her own tennis federation which recently introduced a dress code for the French Open that will ban Serena Williams’s black catsuit.
“Everybody is working in the same direction,” Cornet said. “Then we still have some people, like the president of my federation that lives in another time.
“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.
“This kind of person doesn’t have the work that we are all doing to make it more fair for women.”
Additional reporting Rory Carroll. Editing by Ed Osmond