The consequences of the Madrid Open’s decision to deny both women’s doubles finalists a speech during the trophy ceremony on Sunday rumbled on into Rome on Tuesday as Coco Gauff and Jessica Pegula expressed frustration about tournament organisers silencing players.
Gauff and Pegula were defeated in the final by Victoria Azarenka and Beatriz Haddad Maia. Pegula said she felt tension behind the scenes throughout a dramatic two weeks in Madrid and “had a feeling something would happen”. She did not anticipate the organisers refusing to allow the players to address the crowd.
“Did I think we were not going to be able to speak? No. I’ve never heard of that, like, in my life,” Pegula said at her pre-tournament press conference. “Even in a $10K challenger final you would speak. I don’t know what century everyone was living in when they made that decision or how they actually had a conversation and decided: ‘Wow, this is a great decision we’re going to do and there’s going to be no backlash against this.’”
Tennis tournaments at all levels conclude each event with a trophy ceremony and both finalists almost always give speeches. In the men’s doubles final a day earlier, both teams spoke. The women’s finalists did not know their speech had been cut until they were ushered to take photos with their trophies.
“The guy was like: ‘Now you go up on the podium and take one [photo] together.’ Then Vika [Azarenka] turned to us and said: ‘There’s no speeches.’ We were like: ‘What?’ She was like: ‘We’re not allowed to talk.’ We realised there were no microphones set up, there’s nothing. It was very rushed,” Pegula said.
The events on Sunday had been preceded by issues, serious and amusing, during the tournament. The Madrid Open organisers were mocked on Twitter for providing a much larger cake to Carlos Alcaraz than his fellow No 2, Aryna Sabalenka, who shares a birthday on 5 May.
Azarenka responded to a viral tweet on the subject by implying that it reflected the tournament’s treatment of the respective genders. “Couldn’t be more accurate on the treatment,” she wrote. Feliciano López, the tournament director and an active tennis player, defended the tournament in response to Azarenka. “I’m surprised by this reaction after this gesture!” he wrote on Twitter.
The Guardian understands that Azarenkawas also critical of scheduling decisions behind the scenes. On Friday she and Haddad Maia began their semi‑final at 22:50. Meanwhile, the Madrid Open has a reputation dating back to its previous owners for scheduling women’s matches either extremely early or late, and it has been criticised for employing models as ball girls.
After the final, Gauff sought out the tournament officials and said she received an apology. “I was told it was a situation that didn’t involve me that happened,” Gauff said. “I’m not going to go into that situation. People probably know what it was. But, yeah, that’s what I was told. I said that situation for me was not deep enough to not have a trophy ceremony. I think that we worked hard to get to that final.”
For Gauff, the main issue is that a tournament silencing players sets a dangerous precedent and tournaments should be able to absorb criticism, even publicly, without retaliating. “I do think the player should address the crowd, people who came and supported the event,” she said.
“But I think it was just more about the principle behind it, that in future cases, maybe me or somebody else criticises the organisation or tournament, maybe deeper than what was said, I don’t know, maybe racism, homophobia, something like that. You can’t just cut, no speech, no nothing. You have to take those criticisms.”
Meanwhile, Ons Jabeur called the situation “unacceptable” and expressed the importance of top players standing together. “I believe it’s also our job as a top player to stand up for our colleagues and to raise the issues,” Jabeur said. “I’m not trying to fight with anyone. I’m not trying to, but I feel like we need to be treated better, we need to be treated in the right way. That was not the case back in Madrid or back in other tournaments.”
Following his triumph at the Aix-en-Provence Challenger last week, his first title in nearly four years, Andy Murray will face the home favourite Fabio Fognini in the first round of the Italian Open on Wednesday.
Murray, who has risen to No 42 in the rankings, said he felt better in his final matches in France than at any other point this year.
“I moved well, I hit the ball big from both sides, I returned well. The last two matches are the best I’ve felt on the court the whole year. Better than Australia. Just all round better than in Doha,” Murray told the Guardian.
Murray was born nine days before Fognini and the two 35-year-olds have been rivals since they competed in under-12 category tournaments. Fognini, a former Masters 1000 champion, is as talented as he is combative. The last time they played each other, at Shanghai 2019, an argument ended with Murray telling Fognini to “shut up”. Murray said he will look to remain more composed this time.
“That’s probably my bad, I need to just focus on the tennis and stay fully focused on my side of the net when I play against him tomorrow. I’m sure it will be a good atmosphere with the fans here. I’m sure he’ll be trying to engage with them, get them in the match and everything. I need to be ready for that, just focus on my side of the net.”