The second and final week of Coachella Valley’s prestigious BNP Paribas Open typically delivers sharp tennis play and competitive drama as sports media and fans around the world focus on the on-court action.
This year, that unfortunately was not the case.
As Sunday’s first match began, hopes ran high that top-ranked Serena Williams would reclaim the championship she last captured in 2001. But a curiously subdued and somber Williams offered little resistance to No. 8 Victoria Azarenka’s determined if less-than-dominating performance. With 33 unforced errors, Williams squandered a multitude of break-point opportunities throughout both sets. Even so, she did manage a short-lived comeback in the second set before succumbing to now second-time BNP Paribas champion Azarenka in straight sets, 6-4, 6-4.
That set the scene for heavily favored and top-ranked Novak Djokovic to take on No. 12 Milos Raonic of Canada. Despite plenty of Canadians in the stands to offer support, Raonic could never gain an advantage in the match. He underperformed throughout, committing 27 unforced errors while managing a mere four aces with his vaunted serving game. As the second set began, he left the court for an elongated injury play stoppage, and when he returned, he lost every game in a convincing 6-2, 6-0 Djokovic win.
But by far, the biggest unforced error of the strange day went to none other than Raymond Moore, the BNP Paribas Open tournament director and CEO. At a morning news conference, Moore was asked about prospects of elevating his tournament to the status of a fifth major title for the pros. Saying that the men’s tour was on board for that opportunity, he then offered this evaluation of the WTA and the women’s tour players: “In my next life, when I come back, I want to be someone in the WTA, because they ride on the coattails of the men. They don’t make any decisions, and they are lucky. They are very, very lucky,” he said.
Moore continued: “If I was a lady player, I’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.”
Both Azarenka and Williams expressed their displeasure with Moore’s remarks during post-match interviews. “Why do you have to make the comment? Who cares?” Azarenka asked rhetorically. “I mean, if that makes that person feel better or bigger or whatever, it’s a pretty sad person.”
Williams said, “Obviously I don’t think any woman should be down on her knees thanking anybody like that. If I could tell you every day how many people say they don’t watch tennis unless they’re watching myself or my sister … you know, I couldn’t even bring up that number.”
When asked if she thought there might be a misunderstanding regarding how people were interpreting Moore’s comments, Williams replied, “Well, if you read the transcript, you can only interpret it one way. I speak very good English. I’m sure he does, too.”
Later in the day, Moore had the BNP Paribas public relations staff issue a statement on his behalf which stated, “At my morning breakfast with the media, I made comments about the WTA that were in extremely poor taste and erroneous. I am truly sorry for those remarks, and apologize to all the players and WTA as a whole. We had a women’s final today that reflects the strength of the players, especially Serena and Victoria, and the entire WTA. Again, I am truly sorry for my remarks.”
(Update: Moore resigned on Monday, March 21.)
With all of Sunday’s controversy and uncharacteristically tepid competition, it would be easy to overlook some of the sparkling play that took place earlier in Week 2. Arguably the best tennis of the entire tournament was played on Wednesday, in the round of 16 match between No. 5 Rafael Nadal and No. 52 Alexander Zverev. Perennial fan favorite Nadal defeated the 18-year-old German phenom, who had thrilled crowds with upset wins over Grigor Dimitrov and Gilles Simon, both Top 25 players. Stadium 1 was packed for their battle, and the crowd roared throughout in appreciation of the competitive fire displayed by both players in the 6-7, 6-0, 7-5 Nadal comeback victory.