The U.S. Tennis Association acknowledged Wednesday that a chair umpire incorrectly warned French player Alize Cornet for changing her shirt on court at the U.S. Open — the latest example in recent days of ways in which men and women are treated differently in tennis.
Off court during a 10-minute indoor break because of excessive heat during Tuesday's first-round match, Cornet changed out of her sweat-soaked outfit. She rushed to get dressed before play resumed, she said, and put her top on backward, but didn't realize there was a problem until her boyfriend pointed it out. That's when, standing behind a baseline, Cornet pulled off her shirt and put it back on the right way.
Chair umpire Christian Rask then admonished Cornet during her 4-6, 6-3, 6-2 loss to Sweden's Johanna Larsson.
"Of course, I was surprised when I just changed (the) T-shirt really quick, and he gave me the code violation," Cornet said at a news conference Wednesday. "I didn't expect it, and I told him it was pretty weird."
The USTA seemed to agree.
"We have clarified the policy to ensure this will not happen moving forward. Fortunately, she was only assessed a warning with no further penalty or fine," read a statement from the USTA, which runs the U.S. Open.
There was plenty of criticism of Rask's ruling on social media, including from three-time major champion Andy Murray's mother, Judy.
"If I would say my true feelings, it would be bleeped out, because I think it was ridiculous," two-time U.S. Open runner-up Victoria Azarenka said after her match Wednesday. "It was nothing wrong. Nothing wrong. It wasn't anything disrespectful. She literally changed her shirt because it was backwards. So I couldn't believe this was a conversation. I'm glad they apologized, and I hope this never happens again."
While women rarely change clothes on court during professional tennis matches, men switch shirts all the time, usually during changeovers — often to catcalls from the crowd. On Tuesday, 13-time major champion Novak Djokovic sat without a shirt on throughout a changeover as he tried to cool off.
The women's tennis tour, the WTA, called the umpire's warning "unfair," pointed out there was no rule prohibiting what Cornet did and said, "Alize did nothing wrong."
The episode came on the heels of other happenings that sparked a broader conversation about the sport's views of women and men.
Most prominent was the declaration by French tennis federation president Bernard Giudicelli that the black catsuit worn this year by Serena Williams at Roland Garros would not be allowed at the French Open in the future.
"It will no longer be accepted. One must respect the game and the place," Giudicelli told Tennis Magazine.
While Williams downplayed those remarks, Cornet most decidedly did not.
"Of course it can be better, inequity between men and women, but I think we are on the right path. I really believe it. Everybody is working in the same direction. I think we are doing all very good," Cornet said. "Then we still have some people, like the president of my federation, that lives in another, you know, time and can still (make) these kind of comments. They are totally, for me, shocking."
Added Cornet: "What Bernard Giudicelli said about Serena's catsuit was 10,000 times worse than what happened to me on the court."
The 10-minute break during which Cornet's wardrobe malfunction occurred is part of the WTA's rule governing excessive heat and humidity: Women can have that respite before the third set of a match played in tough conditions.
The men have no such rule. So the USTA instituted one Tuesday, when it felt like more than 100 degrees (40 Celsius) on court, offering them a 10-minute break before a match headed to a fourth set.
"There is always a double standard for men and women," Azarenka said. "But we need to push those barriers."