MELBOURNE -- While controversy swirled around deflated footballs back home, here at the Australian Open, debate and social media twirled over a different subject this week.
Specifically, the Margaret Court Arena announcer asked both Serena Williams and Eugenie Bouchard to "twirl'' following their second-round matches to better show off their neon bright dresses. Serena did so without much issue, and no one asked about the twirl request at her postmatch news conference (though there were questions about her dress).
Bouchard, however, clearly felt awkward about the announcer's request the next night. While she did spin, she held her arms down to keep the skirt from flying up much.
It was an odd and inappropriate request, but at least he didn't ask Bouchard to stand on a Marilyn Monroe-esque subway grate.
"It was very unexpected,'' Bouchard said when questioned about it after the match. "I mean, yeah, I don't know. An old guy asking you to twirl. It was funny.''
Perhaps she meant funny as in strange. Some, such as Billie Jean King, found it downright offensive.
"The Australian Open interviewer asking the women to 'twirl' on court is out of line,'' King tweeted. "This is truly sexist. If you ask the women, you have to ask the guys to twirl as well.''
As people continued to tweet and comment about Twirlgate two days later, Bouchard was asked about the twirl again following her third-round victory Friday, to which she responded: "You know, I'm fine with being asked to twirl if they ask the guys to flex their muscles and stuff.''
She's right about that. We never hear something like this: Good match, Rafa. Now, would you stand there and show us how you pump yourself up?
Other than perhaps figure skating (hello, Johnny Weir!), I do not often see many such fashion comments in sports outside tennis, mostly because athletes are generally wearing a specified uniform. Madison Bumgarner, after all, does not get asked why he is wearing cream-colored pants and a black cap with orange lettering. (Although fans do pay a great deal of attention to uniforms.)
This is not to say that men do not get asked about their fashion in tennis. As colleague Kamakshi Tandon writes here, Rafael Nadal took a question about the length of his shorts this week and some Australian players were asked about their bright colors.
Still, male players usually get such questions only when they are wearing something very different. Fashion is more often a topic for women tennis players -- Victoria Azarenka even halted her second-round news conference to sincerely ask a reporter what he thought of her dresses. The reason isn't so much sexist or gender-biased as it is simply obvious: Women dress better than men, who are generally slobs.
"I don't think the guys take enough chances with their fashion,'' Bethanie Mattek-Sands said. "It's pretty much a T-shirt and shorts, and, well, that's about it. I remember how people freaked out when James Blake wore a sleeveless shirt for a match -- that was big. I think the women just have more options.
"The Australia guys have some really colorful outfits, which is cool. But again, it's T-shirts and shorts. I think there's a lot more playing with what the women wear, and I think it's a lot more interesting.''
That was definitely the case when Mattek-Sands wore this dress to a pre-Wimbledon event in 2011, though she currently rocks a much different style on the court that includes shorts and knee-high socks.
Also, it's not just the media who bring up the issue. Bouchard and Azarenka, for instance, tweeted about how great Serena's backless dress looked, the sort of tweets you usually don't see, say, Marshawn Lynch sending. Then again, Serena, Azarenka and Bouchard wear Nike, so perhaps they were just trying to please their sponsor.
When a reporter asked Serena whether she felt different wearing the more revealing dress on court, she replied, "I feel like I don't want to eat too much. One peanut and I'm going to break the dress, so I try not to eat that much.''
Serena said she wasn't offended by the twirl request but, as did others, asked why men aren't asked to do the same. Still, she wasn't getting too worked up over the issue. "I don't look that deep into it. Life is far too short to focus on that. We have so many other problems we want to deal with that we should focus on. Whether I twirl or not, it's not the end of the world.''
She's right. It's not the end of the world. Still, going forward, it's one thing to comment on a fashion statement, but commentators should definitely avoid asking female players to twirl or spin or do anything they would never ask of a male player.
Oh, and bear in mind, I am a sportswriter and lifetime Baseball Writers' Association of America member, perhaps the world's worst-dressed professionals. I am currently wearing a pair of wrinkled cargo shorts, low-cut black socks, black tennis shoes and a fading polo shirt. But at least I shaved this morning.
And this is still a vastly superior outfit to the sweat-drenched bicycle shorts, shirt and shoes I wore covering Philip Humber's perfect game three years ago.
A.J. Pierzynski did tell me, "That's a good look!'' that day, but at least he didn't single me out to twirl in the clubhouse.