‘Ludicrous’: Serena’s sexism slap
Serena Williams has again weighed in on the issue of pay disparity in male and female sport, throwing her support behind the US women's soccer team and slamming the monetary divide in the world game as "ludicrous".
After her win over Victoria Azarenka in the second round at Indian Wells, Williams said it's vital women in sport stand up for their rights to pave the way for future generations.
The US women's national soccer team is suing the US Soccer Federation for gender discrimination as it raises concerns about wages and working conditions just a few months out from the World Cup in France, and Williams backed her countrywomen for drawing a line in the sand.
"I do know that the pay discrepancy (in soccer) is ludicrous," Williams told reporters.
"It's a battle. It's a fight. We have had some incredible pioneers in our sport that stood up in the 70s and said, with this dollar, those women said we're going to get paid what the men get paid. They stood up way back then.
"I think at some point, in every sport, you have to have those pioneers, and maybe it's the time for soccer.
"I'm playing because someone else stood up, and so what they are doing right now is hopefully for the future of women's soccer."
Tennis legend Billie Jean King also welcomed the action being taken by the American team, as did World No. 4 Sloane Stephens.
"I think there should be equal pay across the board for everyone, male or female," Stephens said last week. "But I'm happy for them. I hope they win."
Williams met Azarenka in the second round of the BNP Paribas Open, but it seemed more like a final. Each a two-time winner at the event, Williams edged her friend and rival 7-5 6-3 in a display of fierce forehands and shot-making.
Both returned from maternity leave a year ago at the desert tournament. Since then, Williams has reached two grand slam finals and returned to the world's top 10. Azarenka is ranked No. 48.
"It's been an arduous road," Williams said. "I think we both really appreciate both of our efforts to do the best that we can do."
Azarenka is still seeking to restore order in her personal life, having been involved in a legal tussle over custody of her young son.
At 1-1, there were four straight service breaks by the hard-hitting baseliners. The 23-time grand slam winner led 5-3 with a chance to serve out the first set before Azarenka staged a rally.
The Belarusian held at love for 5-5 before Williams staved off four break points for 6-5. The 37-year-old Williams hit back-to-back return winners at 30-30 to break her opponent for the fourth time and win the set in one hour, 12 minutes.
At 4-3 in the second set, Williams hit a cross-court return winner and Azarenka dropped a backhand into the net. Williams needed three match points to close it out on two strong serves.
She finished with four aces, nine double faults and saved 11 of 15 break points. They met for the first time since their 2016 final at Indian Wells, which Azarenka won.
"As much as she's the toughest opponent I have ever played in my life, she's my favourite person to play against," Azarenka said.
"Why I still play is because I enjoy the challenges. If it's easy, if it's boring, I don't want to play."
The women shared an embrace at the net afterwards.
"She's a very good friend. I would say we're pretty close," Williams said. "We're both mums, and we know how hard it is and how hard it's been for us to come back, you know, and starting literally from scratch."
Williams will face No. 20 Garbine Muguruza in the next round.
Earlier, Stephens lost to Stefanie Voegele of Switzerland 6-3 6-0 in just more than an hour.
The fourth-seeded American committed 32 unforced errors, while Voegele had four aces playing in windy conditions.
Voegele improved to 4-1 against the 2017 US Open champion.
No. 2 seed Simona Halep beat Barbora Strycova 6-2, 6-4. Other seeded winners were No. 7 Kiki Bertens, No. 12 Ashleigh Barty, No. 16 Elise Mertens, No. 22 Jelana Ostapenko and No. 18 Qiang Wang.
Stephens wasn't the only seed to be ousted on the women's side. No. 14 Daria Kasatkina, a finalist last year, lost to Marketa Vondrousova 6-2 6-1. No. 19 seed Caroline Garcia lost to Jennifer Brady 6-3 3-6 6-0 and No. 29 Mihaela Buzarnescu lost to Aussie Daria Gavrilova 6-2 6-2.
Bianca Andreescu, an 18-year-old Canadian, beat No. 32 Dominika Cibulkova 6-2 6-2.
In men's opening-round matches, Steve Johnson beat fellow American Taylor Fritz 6-3 6-3 and Stan Wawrinka edged Daniel Evans 6-7 (4-7), 6-3 6-3. Also advancing were Feliciano Lopez and Hubert Hurkacz.
American Mackenzie McDonald got by Joao Sousa 6-4 3-6 6-3. Novak Djokovic, the world's top-ranked player, won his first-round doubles match with Fabio Fognini. They beat Jeremy Chardy and Milos Raonic 7-6 (7-5) 6-1.