KEY BISCAYNE, FLORIDA – Novak Djokovic met with former women’s tennis greats Billie Jean King and Chris Evert on Wednesday to hear their thoughts about equal prize money, and backpedaled on his controversial comments from Sunday after his tournament victory at Indian Wells.
Djokovic made the initial comments after Indian Wells chief operating officer and tournament director Raymond Moore said female players should be thankful to their male counterparts “because they ride on the coattails of the men.” Moore resigned late Monday.
The top-ranked Djokovic tried to clarify his stance that men should earn more prize money because they draw more spectators.
“When I say about the distribution of the wealth and when I say about growth of the sport, I don’t make any difference amongst the gender,” he said. “My beliefs are completely in line with gender equality and equal opportunities. We are all part of the same sport and we all contribute in our own unique and special ways.”
When pressed on what exactly that means, Djokovic insisted that he has a good relationship with his female colleagues and that he never had an issue with equal opportunity in sports regardless of gender. But he confused the issue a bit when he expanded his thoughts on wealth distribution that is generated at certain tournaments among higher ranked players, saying he meant all players.
Before Djokovic spoke Wednesday, Evert and King addressed the topic, and Evert pointed to Djokovic’s cultural upbringing in Serbia as a possible reason behind some of his views.
“I think a lot of the comments are cultural, too,” said Evert, who won 18 Grand Slam singles titles. “I doubt you hear that as much from the American men’s tennis players and I’m sort of applauding the Americans for that. . . . I think the Europeans, sorry, later on took a cue from the Americans and I think Americans accepted equality on a lot of different levels earlier than Europe did.”
King, who founded the WTA, chose not to take any shots at Moore for his comments and focused on putting the controversy behind everyone.
“I’ve known Ray since the ’60s when I used to go to South Africa when there was apartheid and he really helped fight for that, and so I always appreciate the good that Ray’s done and I think he’s sorry for what he said,” King said. “He was trying to be funny he said, whatever. I’m not putting him under the bus because I really like Ray and he’s done some great things for us.
“I think we need to put this behind him because no one’s perfect. I know I’ve made some real boo-boos in my life, so I really appreciate when people forgive me and say let’s move on. I think we need to really to not worry about it and Ray, but I think it’s important to have the dialogue open and how can we make a difference?”