In the 2018 US Open, temperatures had climbed up to 95 degrees and Alizé Cornet and Johanna Larsson had just come back out onto the court after a 10-minute heat break. Cornet realized that her shirt was on backwards and it was obstructing her range of motion.
She quickly pulled the pink and white striped shirt over her head, briefly exposing her midriff and black and red sports bra. She turned away from the cameras and quickly put the shirt on the right way.
Twenty seconds of an exposed midriff and sports bra was enough to earn Cornet a code violation. When a man takes his shirt off on the court, no one seems to care the way that they did when a woman did it.
This is not the only place in which we are able to see the gender inequality between women and men in the tennis world.
Women are always judged more harshly for reacting to situations with emotion or with frustration and reprimanded for things that men would not be reprimanded for. This is also true in the world of tennis.
There exists an undeniable double standard between the men and women in the tennis world. When women slam their rackets, or yell at umpires they are more likely to get docked points or games, whereas if a man does the same thing he’s typically looked at as simply “stressed out” and receives no repercussions.
Two examples of the double standard placed upon women in the tennis world are Alizé Cornet’s shirt change and the incident that took place between Serena Williams and the umpire at the 2018 US Open Finals during her match with Naomi Osaka.
Serena Williams at the grand slam finals
Tennis matches can be long and extremely drawn out. Some can last hours or span a few days. The longest tennis match ever played was played over the course of three days and lasted for 11 hours and 5 minutes. With the amount of energy exerted and time spent playing a game, it is only natural that the players end up getting frustrated sometimes.
All tennis players exhibit their frustrations on the court in one manner or another, the difference however lies within the way men and women are treated for showing their emotions or frustrations.
During the 2018 US Open Finals in a match between Serena Williams and Naomi Osaka, Serena Williams got into several verbal arguments with the umpire and ended up slamming her racquet on the floor.
The dispute with the umpire was initially started because he gave Williams a warning about receiving coaching during the second game of the second set and got progressively worse as they continued arguing throughout the match.
It is no secret that tennis coaches try to signal to their players or coach their players during games.
“Serena is so aggressive and so uber-Serena that I think she brings some of this stuff on herself, but you can’t tell me that Uncle Toni [Rafael Nadal’s coach] isn’t whispering to Nadal during his games and no one does anything about it,” said Greg Garber, a tennis reporter at ESPN.
It is no surprise that Serena became agitated after being hit with this first code violation, when other tennis players, especially male tennis players receive coaching and never get into any trouble for it.
“Everybody knows it. Nobody denies it, including the international governing bodies, the players and the coaches,” Williams’ coach, Patrick Mouratoglou said. “There needs to be a debate, a big one, on whether to authorize coaching, because hypocrisy has its limits.”
Carlos Ramos, the chair umpire of this match between Osaka and Williams has been known to get into arguments and rows, similar to the one he had with Williams, where he will only give out warnings and won’t dock any points or give out any code violations.
And yet, when Nick Kyrgios yelled at Ramos during a match, saying that his umpiring was “f***ing bulls***”, Ramos gave him no game penalties and no point penalties. Andy Murray, Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic all got into similar rows with Ramos and none suffered game or point penalties.
Here is where we see one of the double standards for Women in the world of Tennis. They are penalized for getting frustrated and showing their emotions whereas men are usually not penalized. The men get off with warnings.
Kelsey Leitch, is a former Trinidad and Tobago National Tennis Team player.“During a match, when I was getting frustrated, I had yelled and hit my racquet against the floor, but not hard enough to damage it, and when the match was over, my coach at the time had told me, in front of all my teammates, that I shouldn’t overdo it with my emotions.
“But, one of the boys on my team did the same things that I did and my coach didn’t say anything about it.”
When women slam their rackets, or yell at umpires they are more likely to get docked points or games, whereas if a man does the same thing he’s just “stressed out” and receives no repercussions.
“I think there is still this outdated belief that female tennis players have to maintain this ‘prim and proper,’ feminine-like ideal,” said Prim Siripipat, a former ESPN anchor and former Duke tennis player. “Indeed, it can be frustrating at times.”
Alizé Cornet’s shirt change at the US open
When we think of outdoor tennis tournaments we think of heat and the sun beating down on the players as they run back and forth on the court volleying and slamming balls. When we think of heat we think of sweat and the athletes whose shirts begin to stick to their bodies when the sweat starts to gather.
We have seen numerous male tennis players change their shirts in between matches when they become too sweaty and none of them have ever been reprimanded for it. No complaints have ever been made about a male tennis player changing his shirt.
Garber said, “It’s the double standard. Rafa takes his shirt off all the time and no one has anything to say about it.”
In the US Open in 2018, French player Alizé Cornet realized her shirt was on backwards and took it off briefly to turn it around. Having her shirt on backwards would have obstructed her range of motion and made it hard for her to play properly and to the best of her ability.
Due to the removal of her shirt she received a code violation. Even though the removal of her shirt and putting it back on took no more than 10 seconds, even though she turned away from the television cameras before taking it off and even though so many male players have changed their shirts the same way and have never been reprimanded, Cornet was still punished.
“I don’t feel strongly about this incident, maybe as an older tennis player, I have become way too accustomed to these gender norms,” said Siripipat.
These gender inequalities have become so ingrained in the culture of tennis that some senior players may not pay it any mind because they have become so desensitized to these conditions. However, younger players are aware of the inequalities and are outraged by them.
“This violation was outrageous. Women wear things to cover what should be covered, such as sports bras, so when men are able to be shirtless on court in front of an audience, women should be able to do the same when they need to change, even more so because they’re more covered up than the men are even when they take their shirts off,” said Leitch.
In the same tournament in 2018 Roger Federer and Novak Djokovic both did essentially the same thing. In between their matches they had taken their shirts off to change into clean ones. Neither of the male tennis players were reprimanded or received a code violation.
The US Open officials argued that there was no reason to reprimand the two male players because they had taken their shirts off during the break between their matches and they had done it at their benches while they were sitting. They argued that the reason Cornet had been hit with a code violation was because she did not do it while she was sitting at her bench.
Eventually, the US Tennis Association, who run the US Open, expressed “regret” that Cornet had been given this code violation and had been treated like this.
These two case studies are only a small look into the gender inequalities that exist in the tennis world. Cornet and Williams are not the only female players that have been punished for things that men would not be reprimanded for.