At the U.S. Open on Tuesday, all it took was one small adjustment of clothing to set off a larger debate about sexist double standards in tennis. That discussion is nothing new to the sport — it was just the latest in a string of controversies arising this summer.
Here’s what happened: After a 10-minute heat break, Alize Cornet of France returned from changing clothes and noticed a wardrobe miscue. Briefly flashing a black-and-red sports bra, she removed her shirt as quickly and discreetly as possible along the baseline, allowing her sponsor’s logo to move back into the proper position. The switch required roughly 10 seconds. But that change was accomplished neither quickly nor discreetly enough to escape the notice of chair umpire Christian Rask, and she was issued a warning for what he deemed a code violation.
Fans quickly noticed. Judy Murray, the mother of Andy Murray, noted the incident soon after it happened, tweeting that Cornet “had her fresh shirt on back to front. Changed at back of court. Got a code violation. Unsportsmanlike conduct….But the men can change shirts on court.”
That started a vigorous conversation on Twitter, with Bethanie Mattek-Sands, an American player, replying, “That’s weak,” and Murray agreeing, “Sure is.”
The United States Tennis Association said Wednesday that it regretted the code violation and had “clarified the policy to ensure this will not happen moving forward.”
“All players can change their shirts when sitting in the player chair,” it said in the statement. “This is not considered a Code Violation.” And female players, the association said, “may also change their shirts in a more private location close to the court, when available. They will not be assessed a bathroom break in this circumstance.”
The code violation, the Women’s Tennis Association said in a statement, was assessed “under the Grand Slam rules.” Cornet, according to the WTA, “did nothing wrong.” The WTA added that it has “no rule against a change of attire on court.”
Cornet’s “blunder” occurred after a 10-minute heat break that was put into place for the women because of temperatures in New York that soared into the upper 90s. Male players were given no such break, even though they play best-of-five matches, compared with the women’s best of three. So Novak Djokovic and other male players changed their shirts during changeovers, and iced down, too.
Cornet, who went on to lose, 6-4, 3-6, 2-6, to Sweden’s Johanna Larsson, seemed surprised by the penalty. And the penalty generated ample social media reaction, with some calling the rule a double standard and others accusing tennis officials of sexism and elitism.
The incident was just the latest misstep by tennis when it comes to female players. Most recently, the French Open banned Serena Williams from wearing the catsuit she had worn in Paris this spring. (She said she wore that outfit partly because she feels “like a warrior in it,” and partly for medical reasons.)
Bernard Giudicelli, the president of the French Tennis Federation, announced last week that a dress code would be enforced, telling the Associated Press that “sometimes we’ve gone too far.”
And that impacted the catsuit, even though Williams was not penalized for wearing it this spring.
“One must respect the game and the place,” Giudicelli said.
The catsuit would appear to have violated WTA rules, which require that “compression shorts” be worn under a dress, skirt or shorts. “Nothing against Serena’s outfit,” Arina Rodionova, an Australian doubles player, tweeted in May, “but just wondering how is that allowed by the rules if we only [are] allowed to wear leggings until the middle of the calf [at] the longest and ALWAYS have to wear skirt/shorts on top of the leggings.”
Billie Jean King argued that “the policing of women’s bodies must end,” writing, “Criticizing what she wears to work is where the true disrespect lies.”
Alla Kudryavtseva, a Russian doubles player, tweeted at the time that she has “been asked to put a skirt on over leggings many times. You have no idea how uncomfortable that is. Or to take them off. That happened, too. On both grand slams and WTA tournaments. I hope now we can wear leggings alone! Go Serena!”
She also asked: “Do you think wearing leggings to the court would be equivalent to the catsuit? I think so. When we start playing on grass and it’ll be cold I’ll make it a point to wear leggings to the court and I’ll [tweet] if I will be required to put on a skirt on top.”
As for Williams, she plans to scrap the catsuit, because, she said, “when it comes to fashion, you don’t want to be a repeat offender.” She did add, though, “I feel like if and when, or if they know that some things are for health reasons, then there’s no way that they wouldn’t be okay with it. So I think it’s fine.”