Australian Open: Interviewer causes sexism storm

Serena Williams was asked to 'give us a twirl' by Australian commentator Ian Cohen.    Picture: Getty Images
Serena Williams was asked to 'give us a twirl' by Australian commentator Ian Cohen. Picture: Getty Images
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SERENA Williams was reluctant to discuss suggestions of sexism at the Australian Open after a male on-court interviewer sparked outrage by asking some female players to “give a twirl”.

However, the world No 1 acknowledged that leading men’s players would never be asked to do the same in post-match TV interviews.

Both Williams and Canada’s Eugenie Bouchard were asked to spin around to show off their outfits during on-court interviews in Melbourne, prompting an angry response on social media and accusations of sexism levelled at Tennis Australia commentator Ian Cohen, who made the request.

Bouchard looked slightly bemused by the request, which followed her straight-sets win over Kiki Bertens on Wednesday, admitting in her post-match press conference the question had taken her by surprise.

“It was very unexpected. I mean, yeah, I don’t know. An old guy asking you to twirl, it was funny,” said the seventh seed.

Williams, a second-round winner over Vera Zvonareva yesterday, revealed she had also had the same request and not enjoyed the experience, but would not be drawn on whether it was sexist or not.

The American said: “A commentator asked me to twirl. I wouldn’t ask Rafa [Nadal] or Roger [Federer] to twirl. Whether it’s sexist or not, I don’t know. I can’t answer that.

“I didn’t really want to twirl because I was just like, you know, I don’t need all the extra attention. But, yeah, it was fine.

“I don’t think and 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. It’s about being positive and just moving forward.”

Retired American player Billie Jean King, who won the tournament in 1968, later took to Twitter to brand the interviewer’s request as “truly sexist”.

The 12-time Grand Slam singles winner, now 71, tweeted: “The Australian Open interviewer asking the women to ‘twirl’ on court is out of line.

“This is truly sexist. If you ask the women, you have to ask the guys to twirl as well.

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

Williams was glad she identified the threat posed by Zvonareva quickly enough to reach the third round in Melbourne for the 14th time in 15 appearances.

Top seed Williams, whose sole loss in the second round came on her debut in 1998, had to save three set points when trailing 5-3 in the opening set before reeling off ten games in a row to beat Zvonareva 7-5 6-0.

“She started out really well, really played aggressive and I was a little too passive,” said Williams, who is seeking a 19th grand slam title to edge closer to record holder Steffi Graf, who won 22.

Her sister Venus, who has not gone beyond the third round of any slam since Wimbledon in 2011, defeated compatriot Lauren Davis for the second tournament running, 6-2, 6-3.

“I’m just doing the best I can,” the 34-year-old said. “I always was, even when it wasn’t what I wanted. So whatever that is, I’m doing absolutely the best I can. I think as long as I’m doing my best, something good will come. There is a scripture that says faith without works is dead. So you have to have faith, but you have work too. I’m doing both.”

Venus will play Italy’s Camila Giorgi in the third round and is scheduled to meet sixth seed Agnieszka Radwanska in the last 16. Radwanska appears to be enjoying life with new coach Martina Navratilova as she thrashed Swede Johanna Larsson 6-0, 6-1 in just 44 minutes.

Fourth seed Petra Kvitova was also a comfortable winner, the Wimbledon champion beating Germany’s Mona Barthel 6-2 6-4 to set up a third-round clash with 19-year-old American Madison Keys, who defeated 29th seed Casey Dellacqua.

The much-anticipated clash between eighth seed Caroline Wozniacki and two-time champion Victoria Azarenka did not quite live up to the hype, Azarenka edging a tough first set before winning 6-4, 6-2 on Margaret Court Arena. Azarenka is not seeded at a slam for the first time since 2007 after a 2014 season hampered by injury and the end of a long-term relationship, but always had the upper hand over fellow former world No 1 Wozniacki.