AUSTRALIAN OPEN: Twirlgate Just for Show? Calling BS on Billie Jean King’s Sexism Claim


Maria Sharapova has talked about her passion for fashion, and how she enjoys helping with the designs of the tennis dresses she wears, including the little black tennis dress. Last year, Glamour magazine called her clothes “saucy.” A few years ago, Forbes said she likes “tank dresses with kicky skirts.”

Who can argue with that? And who can forget Serena Williams’ catsuit? I was at the Australian Open a few years ago when Venus Williams explained that she had designed skin-toned underwear for a natural look.

Awkward? You bet. But on Wednesday, Eugenie Bouchard won her match at the Australian Open, and when she did her post-match interview on court for the crowd, she was asked to give “a twirl” to show off her dress.

It is now a fullfledged scandal, with Billie Jean King posting on Twitter that the request to twirl was “out of line. This is truly sexist. If you ask the women, you have to ask the men to twirl as well.”

Go ahead. Ask Roger Federer to twirl. Ask Rafael Nadal. Ask Andy Murray. You know what? They won’t do it.

Bouchard, and earlier Serena Williams, did because it’s part of women’s tennis.

And God bless King for all she’s done to set a path for girls, including my daughter, with Title IX and the women’s tour. But on this one, I’m calling BS. She’s coming off like Al Sharpton, looking for any opportunity — genuine or not — to push the cause.

Look, it was an uncomfortable request, yes. It’s an unfamiliar balance, too, that the tour is selling. Bouchard, 20, is one of the best tennis players in the world. But the truth is, if this is a serious issue of sexism, then it’s not about what some guy asked Bouchard to do to show off her dress.

If there is need to change, then the women’s tour needs to take a hard look at what the women’s tour is selling.

The women’s players and the tour itself are walking a dangerous line. We want these women to stand for sport and fitness and athleticism, not sex appeal. But there is marketing in everything, and women’s tennis is selling both sport and fashion.

Women players have been tweeting all week about how much they love Serena Williams’ dress, and she explained that the open back is about showing power. I have not seen one women’s player tweet about how great Williams’ backhand has been.

No, these women are doing it themselves, pushing the court as a pseudo-red carpet. So I’m having a hard time working up anger over a guy asking a player to do exactly what Ryan Seacrest and Giuliana
Rancic might have asked actresses to do on the red carpet at the Golden Globes.

If you find the balance beyond awkward, then take it out on the people who created it.

When the guy asked Bouchard for the twirl on court, he said that Bouchard had tweeted the night before

how much she liked Williams’ dress. He said Serena had given a twirl, so “Can you give us a twirl and tell us about your outfit?”

He specifically said he wanted her to show her outfit, not her backside. It was a fashion request to show off her dress, just like you see in Hollywood.

Awkward? You bet.

The fashion show is part of women’s tennis. To pretend otherwise is disingenuous. It’s uncomfortable, but it’s also uncomfortable that it is part of what these women and the tour use to sell the sport. Meanwhile, women’s tennis is the only women’s sport that has made it to the mainstream year-round and even in non-Olympics years.

I think it was just the imagery of the guy asking Bouchard to twirl that seemed so awkward, and maybe even a little creepy. But what I’m saying is that it didn’t come out of nowhere. It came from the culture of the sport.

It is a touchy subject. But part of what sells on tour is the attractiveness of the women. It is true of the men, too. Rafael Nadal was asked about his shorts the other day — men’s tennis shorts have gone back well above the knee this year! And for male superstar athletes such as Nadal and Roger Federer, or LeBron James, Michael Jordan and Tiger Woods for that matter, they would not have the same popularity if they weren’t attractive.

Nadal said he would like for the shorts to be even shorter.

But no one asked him to twirl. The men’s game doesn’t sell itself that way.

King’s radar and voice on issues of women’s sports and equality have been national treasures. But I suspect this time she just jumped onto a wave of criticism as an opportunity. It would have felt far more genuine — if King feels this is an issue — if she would have ripped into the women on tour and to the tour itself for becoming a game that’s part-sport, part-twirl.

That could have started a real discussion.

“Let’s focus on competition and accomplishments of both genders,” King tweeted, “and not our looks.”

The interviewer didn’t talk to Bouchard about her looks. He asked her to show off her outfit.


About gregcouch

I can talk tennis all day long, and often do. And yet some of the people I talk to about it might rather I talk about something else. Or with someone else. That’s how it is with tennis, right? Sort of an addiction. Sort of a high. I am a national columnist at and a FoxSports1 TV insider, and have been a columnist at the Chicago Sun-Times. In 2010, I was the only American sports writer to cover the full two weeks of all four majors, and also to cover each of the U.S. Masters series events. I’ve seen a lot of tennis, talked with a lot of players, coaches, agents. I watched from a few rows behind the line judge as Serena rolled her foot onto the baseline for the footfault, a good call, at the 2009 U.S. Open. I sat forever watching a John Isner marathon, leaving for Wimbledon village to watch an England World Cup soccer game at a pub and then returning for hours of Isner, sitting a few feet from his wrecked coach. I got to see Novak Djokovic and Robin Soderling joke around on a practice court on the middle Sunday at Wimbledon, placing a small wager on a tiebreaker. Djokovic won, and Soderling pulled a bill out of his wallet, crumpled it into his fist and threw it at Djokovic, who unwadded it, kissed it, and told me, “My work is done here.’’ And when Rafael Nadal won the French Open in 2010, I finished my column, walked back out onto the court, and filled an empty tic tac container with the red clay. I’m looking at it right now. Well, I don’t always see the game the same way others do. I can be hard on tennis, particularly on the characters in suits running it. Tennis has no less scandal and dirt than any other game. Yet somehow, it seems to be covered up, usually from an incredible web of conflicts of interest. I promise to always tell the truth as I see it. Of course, I would appreciate it if you’d let me know when I’m wrong. I love sports arguments and hope to be in a few of them with you here. Personal info: One-handed backhand, serve-and-volleyer. View all posts by gregcouch

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