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Breaking Down the Double Standards in Tennis at the Madrid Open


There was a lot of criticism surrounding the treatment of women at the 2023 Madrid Open. The champions, Beatriz Haddad Maia and Victoria Azarenka, and the runner-ups, Jessica Pegula and Coco Gauff, were not given the chance to give speeches after the women’s doubles final on Sunday, May 7.

Meanwhile, the male athletes were allowed to give speeches after their events at the same tournament.

The aftermath of the Madrid Open

The decision to silence Maia, Azarenka, Pegula, and Cauff after their event sparked a wave of criticism on social media. Many people took to online platforms to express their disapproval of the tournament’s decision and voice support for the affected athletes. Some of the athletes themselves also spoke out about the controversy in interviews and on their social media accounts.

“I don’t know what century everyone was living in when they made that decision,” Pegula said, as reported by the BBC. “Or how they had a conversation and decided, ‘Wow, this is a great decision, and there’s going to be no backlash against this.’ I’ve never heard in my life we wouldn’t be able to speak. It was disappointing. In a $10,000 final, you would speak. It spoke for itself. We were upset when it happened and told during the trophy ceremony we weren’t able to speak. It kind of proved a point.”

Gauff addressed the silencing on social media, writing, “Wasn’t given the chance to speak after the final today. But thank you to the fans for supporting us and women’s tennis this week!”

“Twitter format doesn’t allow me to say everything I would’ve said during the speech if we had one,” Gauff added. “But just wanted to say I’m thankful”

Azarenka also addressed her inability to speak following the match, writing on social media, “Hard to explain to Leo that mommy isn’t able to say hello to him at the trophy ceremony.”

After several days of support toward the four finalists and criticism toward the tournament, Gerard Tsobanian, CEO & Tournament Organiser of the Madrid Open, released a statement to CNN to deliver an apology to the players and fans.

“Not giving our women’s doubles finalists the chance to address their fans at the end of the match was unacceptable, and we have apologized directly to Victoria, Beatriz, Coco, and Jessica,” the statement read. “We are working internally and with the WTA to review our protocols and are committed to improving our process moving forward. We made a mistake, and this will not ever happen again.”

What else happened at the Madrid Open?

Silencing Maia, Azarenka, Pegula, and Gauff wasn’t the only controversy Madrid Open was faced with throughout the tournament. There was a further divide when it came to the difference in how male athletes were celebrated versus how female athletes were. Azarenka called out the treatment of men and women at the tournament, using the sheer size difference of the celebratory cakes presented to Aryna Sabalenka and Carlos Alcaraz – who were both declared the men’s and women’s singles champions – for their birthday as an example. Azarenka re-shared a side-by-side of both players’ cakes on social media with the message “the difference in cake size is astounding,” adding the comment, “Couldn’t be more accurate on the treatment.”

The ballgirl uniforms were also called into question for being sexist, consisting of short skirts paired with a cropped top. After the criticism, for the final day of the tournament, the ball girls were dressed in crop tops and long shorts. CNN reported that Pilar Calvo, spokesperson for The Association for Women in Professional Sports, told Público, “It’s a feminized way of treating girls versus guys who don’t dress like that. In the end, it is a form of sexist violence that is so widespread because people don’t even notice it.”

What are the double standards in tennis for men and women?

Double standards in tennis – and across many facets of society today – for men and women have been present for decades. We’ve seen Serena Williams at the forefront of these conversations, receiving harsh criticism – and fines – from organizations and fans alike for her actions that often mimic those of her male counterparts. For years, she has been outspoken about the double standards she’s been subject to when it comes to her “attitude” at events, despite male players exhibiting the same — and even more aggressive — behavior on the court with referees and fans not batting an eye (John McEnroe, anyone?).

Williams spoke to Christiane Amanpour in 2022 about how her actions are perceived compared to similar actions taken by men, explaining, “There is absolutely a double standard. I would probably be in jail if I did that. Like literally, no joke. You see that when you see other things happening on the tour, and you’re like, ‘Wait, if I had done that…’”

Naomi Osaka addressed the double standards that Williams has faced as an athlete throughout her career during an episode of Victoria’s Secret’s “VS Voices” podcast. Osaka spoke about the media backlash Williams received after the 2018 US Open, sharing her point of view on the topic in regards to the attention, or rather lack thereof, a man would have received for the same reactions.

“Definitely, if a male player did that, it wouldn’t have been so broadcasted,” Osaka said. “There have actually been male players that have done far worse, like literally last year and this year, and they don’t get news reports at all. So I’m not sure if it’s because Serena is Serena, or [if] people just wanted to write negative things…But I can say that people are very interested in Serena, and whatever she does is going to get attention.”

Even down to her decision to retire, Williams – among other female athletes – has lived out the double standards presented to men and women. After playing what is likely her last tennis match in September 2022, Williams announced that she would be stepping away from the sport in her Vogue cover story. Though she emphasized that she loves being a woman, she shared the downsides of wanting to focus on her family as a female athlete.

“Believe me, I never wanted to have to choose between tennis and a family,” she wrote. “I don’t think it’s fair. If I were a guy, I wouldn’t be writing this because I’d be out there playing and winning while my wife was doing the physical labor of expanding our family. Maybe I’d be more of a Tom Brady if I had that opportunity.”

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