It hasn’t even been a week since the controversy over Serena Williams‘ French Open attire, and now the tennis world once again finds itself embroiled in a dustup over what is appropriate for women in the sport.
At the 2018 U.S. Open, French player Alizé Cornet was given a code violation by a chair umpire for removing her shirt on the court, after she realized she was wearing it backward. According to the official Women’s Tennis Association rulebook, female players can change their shirts only off-court. There’s no comparable rule for the men—some of whom, like Novak Djokovic, openly sat shirtless with no repercussions multiple times yesterday.
Cornet had just returned from a 10-minute heat break (it’s currently sweltering in New York), during which she changed her shirt. When she got on the court, she realized she had put it on backward, so she quickly took off the shirt and turned it around. The whole switch took about 10 seconds. The chair umpire who issued the code violation was male.
Social media users were quick to call out the double standard in Cornet’s situation. That includes Billie Jean King, who wrote on Twitter, “This rule is outdated and impractical.”
Shortly after the incident, the U.S Open issued a statement to clarify its position. “Players who do change their shirts will not be assessed a code violation,” US Open director of communications Chris Widmaier said. “We regret that Ms. Cornet was assessed a code violation. However, luckily, she was assessed a warning only and there was no further penalty above a warning.”
“When possible, if a more private location is near a court and is requested, that player will be allowed to go to that private location to change, and they will not be assessed a bathroom break,” the statement continued. “We follow WTA procedures regarding bathroom breaks. A quick change of attire will not considered one of their two bathroom breaks.” Widmaier said no code violations for similar actions will be assessed going forward in the tournament.
While the U.S. Open may have backpedaled on the issue now, it’s all too clear that the powers-that-be in women’s tennis need to take a look at the ways they are policing their female players’ bodies and attire.
On Friday Bernard Giudicelli of the French Tennis Federation said they would “impose certain limits” on clothing that can be worn during the tournament, beginning with the 2019 French Open. This was in response to Williams’ catsuit (worn back in May), which he said went “too far” and would not be allowed next year.
“It will no longer be accepted,” Giudicelli said. “One must respect the game and the place.”
In an interview with The Cut published today, tennis legend Billie Jean King said of the policing of women’s outfits on the court: “Fashion usually dictates our freedoms. Back in the old days, our wrists and our ankles couldn’t be shown. If you look at the fashion every decade in women’s tennis—which is very small—you can see how things are changing in the world for us: our freedoms, the way we dress, which is good. But I never hear them really talk about how the guys should dress.”