March 20 (Reuters) - BNP Paribas Open chief executive and tournament director Raymond Moore provoked outrage on Sunday with controversial comments he made before the women's and men's finals at Indian Wells, and later issued an official apology.
The 69-year-old South African had earlier told reporters that top-level women's players rode "on the coattails of the men," did not make any decisions and were "very, very lucky" to have equal prize money, sparking a firestorm on social media.
Moore also singled out Canada's Eugenie Bouchard and Spaniard Garbine Muguruza as being among the "very attractive prospects" on the WTA circuit tour, before explaining that they were "physically attractive and competitively attractive."
See more of Williams and her sister through the years:
Venus and Serena Williams through the years
Indian Wells CEO says women 'ride on the coattails' of men
Venus Williams (L) and her sister Serena of the U.S. celebrate their victory in the doubles finals against Mariaan de Swardt of South Africa and Elena Tatarkova of the Ukraine at the European indoor championships in Kloten October 18. The Williams sisters won 5-7 6-1 6-3.
Serena Williams (back) goes after a second set shot from her sister Venus Williams March 28 in the final match at the Lipton Championships. Venus defeated Serena 6-1 4-6 6-4 to take the title.
Serena Williams from the United States (R) holds the Grand Slam Cup trophy after the final match against her sister Venus at the Grand Slam Cup in Munich, October 3. Serena won the match 6-1 3-6 6-4.
USA'S Serena Williams (L) and sister Venus practice for the Olympic Games in Sydney, September 21, 2000. The Williams sisters are competing for the United States in the Games of the XXVII Olympiad.
Venus Williams (R) embraces her sister Serena Williams after she won the women's final at the U.S. Open Tennis Championship in New York September 8, 2001. Venus Williams won 6-2 6-4 in a sixty-nine minute match, repeating her final's win from last year. Tonight's final is the first Grand Slam final contested by sisters since Maud Watson beat Lilian Watson 117 years ago in the first Wimbledon women's final in 1884. REUTERS/Gary Hershorn
Venus (R) and Serena Williams of the U.S. confer during their women's doubles match [against Slovenia's Tina Krizan and Katarina Srebotnik] at the Wimbledon tennis championships, July 5, 2002. The Williams sisters won 6-2 6-0.
Serena Williams of the United States returns to her sister [Venus] during the women's final at the U.S. Open in Flushing Meadows, New York, September 7, 2002.
Serena Williams of the United States (L) is greeted at the net by her
sister Venus following the women's final at the U.S. Open in Flushing,
New York, September 7, 2002. Serena won the match 6-4 6-3 to capture
the U.S. Open title. REUTERS/Ray Stubblebine
Venus (R) and Serena Williams (L) of the U.S. play third round women's
doubles against Russia's Elena Dementieva and Lina Krasnoroutskaya at
the Wimbledon Tennis Championships in London, July 1, 2003.
U.S tennis players Serena (L) and Venus Williams smile during a children's tennis practice session on court at Wimbledon in south west london, June 17, 2004. The Wimbledon championships begin on June 21. REUTERS/Kieran Doherty KD/AA
Serena Williams reacts after a missed point against sister [Venus] in their fourth round match at the U.S. Open tennis tournament in Flushing Meadows, New York, September 4, 2005. [Venus] defeated Serena 7-6 6-2.
Venus Williams of the U.S hits a return to sister Serena Williams during their fourth round match at the U.S. Open tennis tournament in Flushing Meadows, New York, September 4, 2005. REUTERS/Mike Segar JA/mk
Serena (L) and Venus Williams of the U.S. reach for the ball during their semi-finals doubles match against Nathalie Dechy of France and Casey Dellacqua of Australia at the Wimbledon tennis championships in London July 4, 2008. REUTERS/Toby Melville (BRITAIN)
Gold medallists Serena (R) and Venus Williams of the U.S. celebrate on the podium after the women's doubles tennis competition at the Beijing 2008 Olympic Games August 17, 2008. REUTERS/Toby Melville (CHINA)
Serena Williams (L) of the U.S. and her sister Venus talk, after winning their women's doubles final match against Slovakia's Daniela Hantuchova and Japan's Ai Sugiyama, at the Australian Open tennis tournament in Melbourne January 30, 2009. REUTERS/Petar Kujundzic (AUSTRALIA)
Serena Williams of the U.S. serves the ball to sister and compatriot Venus Williams during their semi-final match at the WTA Dubai Tennis Championships February 20, 2009. REUTERS/Ahmed Jadallah (UNITED ARAB EMIRATES)
Venus Williams of the U.S. serves the ball to sister and compatriot Serena Williams during their semi-final match at the WTA Dubai Tennis Championships February 20, 2009. REUTERS/Ahmed Jadallah (UNITED ARAB EMIRATES)
Venus Williams of the U.S. (L) and Serena Williams of the U.S. pose for a photograph before their Ladies' Singles finals match at the Wimbledon tennis championships in London, July 4, 2009. REUTERS/Eddie Keogh (BRITAIN SPORT TENNIS)
Serena Williams (L) of the U.S. grimaces after being hit by a serve from her sister Venus during their doubles match against Julia Goerges of Germany and Arantxa Parra Santonja of Spain at the U.S. Open tennis championships in New York September 3, 2009. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque (UNITED STATES SPORT TENNIS)
Sisters Serena Williams (R) and Venus Williams of the U.S. celebrate after defeating Czech Republic's Andrea Hlavackova and Lucie Hradecka in the women's doubles tennis gold medal match at the All England Lawn Tennis Club during the London 2012 Olympic Games August 5, 2012. REUTERS/Stefan Wermuth (BRITAIN - Tags: OLYMPICS SPORT TENNIS TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY)
U.S tennis players Serena Williams (L) and Venus Williams look on during a news conference in Nigeria's commercial capital Lagos October 31, 2012. REUTERS/Akintunde Akinleye (NIGERIA - Tags: SPORT TENNIS)
Venus Williams (top) serves as she and her sister Serena of the U.S. play doubles against compatriots Raquel Kops-Jones and Abigail Spears at the U.S. Open tennis championships in New York August 31, 2013. REUTERS/Ray Stubblebine (UNITED STATES - Tags: SPORT TENNIS)
Tennis - Wimbledon - All England Lawn Tennis & Croquet Club, Wimbledon, England - 6/7/15
Women's Singles - USA's Serena Williams and USA's Venus Williams embrace after their fourth round match
Action Images via Reuters / Andrew Couldridge
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Serena Williams of the U.S. follows the flight of the ball as she falls on a return shot to her sister and compatriot Venus Williams during their quarterfinals match at the U.S. Open Championships tennis tournament in New York, September 8, 2015. REUTERS/Carlo Allegri
Britain Tennis - Wimbledon - All England Lawn Tennis & Croquet Club, Wimbledon, England - 9/7/16 USA's Serena Williams and Venus Williams celebrate winning their womens doubles final against Hungary's Timea Babos and Kazakhstan's Yaroslava Shvedova with the trophies REUTERS/Tony O'Brien
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World number one Novak Djokovic said Moore's comments were "not politically correct" and that women players had "fought for what they deserve, and they got it."
However, he also suggested the men's tour should receive more money as it draws more fans.
"On the other hand, I think that our men's tennis world ... should fight for more because the stats are showing that we have much more spectators on the men's tennis matches.
"I think that's one of the reasons why maybe we should get awarded more."
Moore, in a statement which he issued later in the day, said: "At my morning breakfast with the media, I made comments about the WTA that were in extremely poor taste and erroneous.
"I am truly sorry for those remarks, and apologize to all the players and WTA as a whole.
"We had a women's final today that reflects the strength of the players, especially Serena and Victoria, and the entire WTA. Again, I am truly sorry for my remarks."
Moore, a former ATP Tour player who won eight doubles titles during the 1970s and early 1980s, issued his apology after former world number one Victoria Azarenka had beaten an error-prone Serena Williams 6-4 6-4 in the women's final.
Williams, when asked in her post-match news conference about Moore's initial comments, replied: "Those remarks are very much mistaken and very, very, very inaccurate."
Moore landed himself in hot water when he said during his annual breakfast with media covering the Indian Wells event: "You know, 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.
"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."
Moore went on to say that Muguruza and Bouchard were among a "handful of very attractive prospects" who could take up the mantle in the women's game.
When asked what he meant by attractive, he replied: "They are physically attractive and competitively attractive. They can assume the mantle of leadership once Serena decides to stop."
Billie Jean King, who co-founded the WTA Tour and has long been a pioneer in the women's game, tweeted: "Disappointed in #RaymondMoore comments. He is wrong on so many levels. Every player, especially the top players, contribute to our success."
Fellow American Chris Evert, an 18-time grand slam champion, tweeted: "Now is the Golden Era 4 men, no doubt, but women have worked, fought harder, and have been bigger draws many times."
(Reporting by Mark Lamport-Stokes in Los Angeles; Editing by Andrew Both/Peter Rutherford)