Alize Cornet gladly leads charge to change tennis' double standard
NEW YORK -- Alize Cornet has won six Women's Tennis Association titles over the course of her career. She has beaten Serena Williams three times, including once at Wimbledon. She has been ranked as high as No. 11 in the world.
And yet, nothing could have prepared her for the global spotlight that came her way on Wednesday.
Cornet was given a code violation on Tuesday night during her first-round match against Johanna Larsson after changing her shirt on court. Having accidentally put her shirt on backward during the heat-mandated break before the third set, the 28-year-old Frenchwoman quickly changed, briefly exposing her sports bra (gasp!), and was then given a warning from the chair umpire for unsportsmanlike conduct.
She was initially stunned by the call, and bothered by it for "10 seconds," but remained focused on the match (which she ultimately lost) and didn't think about it much again.
That is, until she walked into the locker room ahead of her doubles match Wednesday morning.
"When I woke up this morning, I didn't think that this code violation would become so famous in less than 24 hours," she said. "I'm very surprised about it, actually, to be honest. Because on the court, it really seemed like a mistake from the umpire and nothing else. That's how I take it.
"When I came in this morning in the locker room, like, many players came to me. Even former players, like Tracy Austin -- I was very honored to be actually approached by her like that. They were just giving me all their support. I mean, everybody was pretty scared that I could get a fine for it. I was also scared.
"So all the players were supporting me for that, and were telling me that if I get fined, we would all be together and see the WTA, you know, and make a revolution and stuff. I was, like, 'Calm down. I'm going to get the information first and then we see if we make a revolution or not.' "
Cornet's peers weren't the only ones up in arms about the call. Andy Murray's mother, Judy, tweeted about the inherent unfairness of the rule when the male players are frequently seen on court changing. Other players, such as Bethanie Mattek-Sands and Victoria Azarenka, expressed their frustration on what they saw as a double standard. The moment quickly went viral.
It seemed like every website in the world, sports-focused or otherwise, had a take on the matter. The criticism directed at the US Open came in swiftly, and the rule was overwhelmingly decried as sexist and antiquated.
The US Open issued a statement Wednesday clarifying the rule and expressing regret for what happened to Cornet. Officials said all players -- regardless of gender -- would be able to change their shirts in their chairs on court going forward. The WTA issued its own statement, calling the original ruling "unfair" and insisting "Alize did nothing wrong."
While her name suddenly became the focal point of debates about equality and fairness the world over, Cornet was preparing for and playing in her doubles match, and staying publicly silent. She finally addressed the issue after losing with partner Irina Bara, and handled the unexpected firestorm and overnight stardom with incredible grace.
Drawing one of the largest crowds to a media conference at the tournament this year, she was quick to downplay what had happened to her, saying the umpire was probably just overwhelmed and crediting the US Open for apologizing. When asked if she had ever changed on court before, she drew laughs from reporters for her hilarious response: "No, usually when I put my clothes on, I put them on the right way."
However, while she diffused her specific situation with humor and humility, she instead used her moment in the spotlight to try to draw attention to the greater issue of equality in the sport. When asked if men and women in tennis are treated differently, she didn't hesitate in saying yes. She then took aim at the president of her own French tennis association, Bernard Giudicelli, and his recent banning of Serena Williams' catsuit worn during this year's French Open.
"I think that now, of course it can be better, inequity between men and women, but I think we are on the right path," Cornet said. "I really believe it. Everybody is working in the same direction. I think we are doing all very good.
"Then we still have some people, like, the president of my federation that lives in another, you know, time, and can still do these kind of comments. They are totally for me shocking. ... What Bernard Giudicelli said about Serena's catsuit was 10,000 times worse than what happened to me on the court yesterday, because he's the president of French [Tennis] Federation and because he doesn't have to do that."
Cornet's run at the US Open this year is now over, having lost in both of her opening-round matches in singles and doubles, but it's clear her influence will be felt for some time on the tournament, and in the sport. She didn't seem overly disappointed by her on-court defeats, perhaps realizing she was having a greater influence off the court in New York this year.
As the U.S. Tennis Association was swift in reversing course after such criticism, one would hope the French Tennis Federation will do the same -- especially in hearing such strong words from one of their own -- and that other organizations around the world will reexamine their own rules to ensure fairness and equality.