Azarenka says French Open lacks true gender equality

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Victoria Azarenka (Getty Images)
Victoria Azarenka (Getty Images)

Victoria Azarenka criticised French Open organisers on Sunday over what she described as a lack of equality, suggesting that aside from the even prize money on offer men received better treatment than women at the tournament.

The former world number one lost in the fourth round to Russia's Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova, ending her best run at Roland Garros since she reached the 2013 semi-finals.

Last year Azarenka fumed at being left to "sit like a duck" and walked off court complaining that it was "too cold" to play, as the 2020 tournament was delayed to late September due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

Azarenka again took aim at officials following her defeat by Pavlyuchenkova, when asked about the scheduling of the new night sessions - with six of the seven so far featuring men's matches.

"What concerns me is when somebody from French Federation is continually trying to say there is equality, and only pointing out to prize money, which is true," said Azarenka.

"Everything else, I wouldn't even agree for a little with that. And that's disappointing."

Serena Williams won the first official night match under the lights on Court Philippe Chatrier, but all evening sessions have been played behind closed doors due to a government-imposed Covid-19 curfew.

The French Tennis Federation's three-year partnership with Amazon Prime Video that runs until 2023 means the day's so-called top match is reserved for primetime audiences.

But the imbalance between men's and women's matches selected for the late timeslot has raised eyebrows, an issue complicated by the early exit of Ashleigh Barty and Naomi Osaka, and the absence of an injured Simona Halep.

"I think there is enough examples over the years where we've heard remarks towards women, where we've seen two women's semi-final matches playing on the outside courts," continued Azarenka.

"I think sometimes you need to hold some people accountable for some of those things and not continuously point out to the obvious of prize money."

"I just think that in general sometimes things here are made a bit too complicated," she added.

"It's just honestly a bit frustrating every time you're trying to deal with the organisation here, it's becoming 'pas possible'. Everything you hear is 'pas possible'."

In an effort to correct the scheduling imbalance, Monday's last 16 match between defending champion Iga Swiatek and Marta Kostyuk has been given the evening slot.

Pavlyuchenkova, whose win saw her seal a first French Open quarter-final appearance since 2011, was, like Azarenka, a former member of the WTA player council.

"I mean, I accept it that we will probably never really be sort of equal in terms of television and popularity maybe," said the Russian.

"I don't know if I should really waste my energy and time fighting over this because right now, I mean, I'm doing my job, I want to win matches.

"And I really don't mind, honestly with you, if I play on Court 2 or Philippe Chatrier. Okay, it's nicer. In the end of the day what I want is to win the tournament and play good. I don't feel like wasting and talking about this."

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