UPDATE: Since the publication of this article, WTA CEO Steve Simon has released the following additional statement:
"The WTA has no tolerance for these kind of statements, this is a breach of our Code of Conduct and the board will review accordingly. The WTA stands on its own and was founded on the principles of equality and empowerment. I am proud of all the strong athletes on the WTA who put in hard work and sacrifice every single day. Tennis as a whole is enriched by the contributions and accomplishments of every player, both female and male."
INDIAN WELLS, CA, USA - Heading into Sunday's final at the BNP Paribas Open there were two big storylines, both of which were grounded in themes of triumph over adversity. On one side there was Serena Williams, who was aiming to win the tournament for the first time since her controversial run to the title in 2001, the circumstances of which kicked off her 14-year absence from the tournament. On the other side was Victoria Azarenka, who was looking to finally put her injury-laden two-year slump behind her and re-ascend into the upper echelons of the game.
Instead, the women of the WTA were reminded once again that regardless of their hard work and lifelong commitment to their ever expanding careers on the world's most successful women's professional league there are some battles - battles that take place outside of the tramlines - that still need to be fought.
On Sunday morning, BNP Paribas Open tournament director Raymond Moore held a roundtable with reporters to discuss the ongoing improvements and vision for what is widely regarded as the best non-Slam tournament on the calendar in Indian Wells. The wide-ranging discussion took a turn toward's the tournament's desire to gain a "Super Masters" status on the ATP Tour and Moore was asked whether he would want something similar on the WTA side. Moore's response sparked outrage the minute they hit social media.
"In my next life when I come back I want to be someone in the WTA because they ride on the coattails of the men," Moore said. "They don't make any decisions and they are lucky. They are very, very lucky.
"If I was a lady player, I'd go down every night on my knees and thank God that Roger Federer and Rafa Nadal were born, because they have carried this sport. They really have." Moore later issued a blanket apology for his remarks, which he described as "in extremely poor taste and erroneous."
"As the Tournament Director of one of the preeminent events in professional tennis, the comments made today by Raymond Moore were extremely disappointing and alarming. The WTA stands on its own and was founded on the principles of equality and empowerment. I am proud of all the strong athletes on the WTA who put in hard work and sacrifice every single day. Tennis as a whole is enriched by the contributions and accomplishments of every player, both female and male."
After taking a tough loss to Azarenka 6-4, 6-4 in the final a few hours after the comments were made, Serena let out a heavy sigh when Moore's comments were read back to her during her post-match press conference. Her response was unequivocal and it was strong.
"Obviously I don't think any woman should be down on their knees thanking anybody like that," the World No.1 said. "If I could tell you every day how many people say they don't watch tennis unless they're watching myself or my sister, I couldn't even bring up that number. So I don't think that is a very accurate statement.
"I think there is a lot of women out there who are very exciting to watch. I think there are a lot of men out there who are exciting to watch. I think it definitely goes both ways. I think those remarks are very much mistaken and very, very, very inaccurate."
Asked whether she believed Moore may have misspoke or whether his comments could be misinterpreted, Serena said no. "If you read the transcript you can only interpret it one way. I speak very good English. I'm sure he does, too.
"You know, there's only one way to interpret that. Get on your knees, which is offensive enough, and thank a man - we, as women, have come a long way. We shouldn't have to drop to our knees at any point."
Pressed further on the issue, Serena rued the fact that the women still have to fight against such sexist and derogatory comments, especially given how far the WTA has come. Serena turned pro in 1995 and over 20 years later she remains one of the biggest draws in tennis, male or female. Her return to Indian Wells last year was one of the most highly-anticipated events of the season and her attempt to complete the Grand Slam filled stadiums along the way.
"Last year the women's final at the US Open sold out well before the men," Serena said. "I'm sorry, did Roger play in that final or Rafa or any man play in that final that was sold out before the men's final? I think not.
"So I just feel like in order to make a comment you have to have history and you have to have facts and you have to know things. You have to know of everything. You look at someone like Billie Jean King who opened so many doors for not only women's players but women's athletes in general.
"I feel like that is such a disservice to her and every female, not only a female athlete but every woman on this planet, that has ever tried to stand up for what they believed in and being proud to be a woman."
Disappointed in #RaymondMoore comments. He is wrong on so many levels. Every player, especially the top players, contribute to our success
BNP Paribas Open champion Azarenka, who became the first woman to defeat Serena in four finals, tried to stay above the fray but grew passionate with her words as the questions about Moore's comments continued.
"I think it's still a problem in the world," Azarenka said, referring to sexism in tennis. "It's not just in sports. It's in business. We try to talk about the equality. Sometimes it just gets unrecognized. I think what women do best is rise above those comments. You don't hear complaints or bad comments towards men.
"From my perspective, if we rise above that and keep working hard in everything we do, we're better. We're better at taking opportunities and being graceful. Why do you have to make the comment? Who cares? Who cares? Simple as that. Just to make more drama or jokes?
"I mean, if that makes that person feel better or bigger or whatever, it's a pretty sad person, I think. Because if you're happy you don't care what other people do. You just take care of you.
"I think that's more important to focus on us. That's what women players and examples like Venus and Serena and other players have been doing for - you know, we got it from Billie Jean King where she proved everybody, Hey, look at me. I started something, so let's go after it.
"So I think it's our duty to keep just working hard through whatever comments there is. We've got to rise above that."
All photos courtesy of Getty Images.