When she first arrived in Sydney in the 1960s, the then 10-year-old Indigenous tennis legend Evonne Goolagong received a less than enthusiastic welcome from the sporting community. “This is the first time I've had the pleasure of playing a Nigger,” she was told by an older woman she had just beaten on the court.
A lot in tennis has changed since then. And a lot hasn’t.
Just a few years ago, Serena Williams, who graciously lost the women’s singles title to Angelique Kerber in three sets at the 2016 Australian Open, was forced to explain that “Tennis is a very white sport.”
Like everything else, it's also male dominated. Women are subject to creepy overtures masked as a bit of fun, body bullied and judged based on their looks in general.
So without further ado (and before we get ourselves too worked up), here are the 11 most racist and/or sexist moments in tennis history…
In 2016, it seems not everyone is still not in tune with how offensive blackface is. At the Australian Open semi-final on Thursday, a “fan” holding a sign saying, “Keep Calm and be Serena” had covered her face in black material.
None of the other fans seemed to mind – perhaps they’ve gotten used to Aussie tennis fans making their faces darker in support of Kyrgios. Or perhaps they're just part of the large portion of people in this country who have a hard time understanding what the problem is, exactly.
Lleyton Hewitt’s black conspiracy
At the US Open in 2001, Lleyton Hewitt pulled out the race card, insinuating the linesman was favouring American James Blake because they were both black. Hewitt denied that he had made a “racial remark” and insisted that he was "not racial". Blake dismissed foul play, but it became one of the most talked about “racial” moments in tennis.
Someone wanted to skin the Williams family alive
To be fair, Venus and Serena Williams could have their own list or book or anthology after all the crap they've put up with. Definitely Serena. But for the purposes of this list, we'll just take a few examples from the parade of garbage that's followed them around...
In 2001, the crowd at Indian Wells - one of America’s most prestigious non-grand slam tournaments – jeered Richard Williams and his daughters. Although it can’t be heard in the original footage, Williams said that the crowd was chanting, “I wish it was ’75 [a reference to the 1975 Los Angeles race riots]; we’d skin you alive!” The family subsequently boycotted the tournament, with Serena returning last year and Venus announcing her return this year.
Michael Llodra calls a Korean American woman a Chinese whore, then says he loves Chinese
In 2012, French player Michael Llodra decided to direct his on court frustrations at a Korean American woman in the stands at Indian Wells, calling her a “Chinese whore” - a taunt that would have gone unnoticed if a French speaking Canadian presenter hadn’t been within earshot. In an attempt to apologise Llodra help up his attraction for Chinese women as evidence of his innocence.
“I love Chinese,” he said. “I can totally make love with a Chinese Girl.”
Marinko Matosevic doesn’t think much of lady tennis
In 2014, when Andy Murray hired his second female coach, former world No. 1 Amelie Mauresmo (his first coach was his mother), Australian player Marinko Matosevic said, "For me, I couldn't do it since I don't think that highly of the women's game... It's all equal rights these days. Got to be politically correct." These women and their equal rights...
A Russian tennis official refers to Venus and Serena as “the Williams brothers”
In 2014, on a Russian late night show, Shamil Tarpischev, the Russian Tennis Federation President, referred to Venus and Serena as “frightening” and jokingly called them brothers. (Good one, Shamil.) Serena didn't think it was that funny.
He was suspended for one year and forced to apologise.
Dawn Fraser tells Nick Kyrgios and Bernard Tomic to go back to where their parents came from
After Kyrgios “tanked” at Wimbledon and Tomic decided to speak up against Tennis Australia, Dawn Fraser decided the both of them should be deported.
Eugenie Bouchard is told to “give us a twirl” like that's a normal thing to say to someone
After winning her match at the Australian Open last year, Eugenie Bouchard was asked by TV commentator Ian Cohen to "give us a twirl". Nothing weird or uncomfortable about that! Eugenie went along with it but later let her true feelings on the situation be known.
"Marion Bartoli is not as pretty as Maria Sharapova"
In 2013, after Marion Bartoli won Wimbledon, British host John Inverdale caused controversy by telling Radio 5 Live listeners: “I just wonder if her dad did say to her... ‘Listen, you are never going to be, you know, a looker. You are never going to be somebody like a Sharapova... so you have to compensate for that. You are going to have to be the most dogged, determined fighter anyone has ever seen on the tennis court.’”
Inverdale sent a personal apology to Bartoli and all was apparently forgiven. They are now friends, apparently.
The ladies can't handle the heat...
Sometimes, while playing tennis at Wimbledon, people get hot. Men, who are strong, don’t need a break, but women, who are less than strong, do. That’s just science. So if the heat index reaches 30C at Wimbledon, female players may ask for a time out. Males must play on.
More racist heckling!
At the Sony Ericsson Open in Florida in 2007, Williams was heckled by a man in the stands, from the start of the match to the end. She was capable of ignoring it until he crossed the line. "The guy said, `Hit the net like any Negro would.' I was shocked," Williams said. "I couldn't believe it. I had to do a double take.” The “fan” was ejected.
At the time, there were suggestions that she had changed the wording when speaking to the press, implying the heckler had used a different N-word.