Russian tennis chief Shamil Tarpischev apologized Saturday for referring to Serena and Venus Williams as the “Williams brothers” during a TV chat show.
Tarpischev, who is also a member of the International Olympic Committee (IOC), has already been carpeted by the WTA for “insulting and demeaning” remarks about the American siblings, being hit with a $25,000 fine and a one-year ban from tennis activities.
Tarpischev is the chairman of the Kremlin Cup tournament in Moscow which is finishing this weekend and has held a string of leading positions in sports administration.
He made the faux pas on a light night talk show in Russia — Evening Urgant — sitting next to former WTA star Elena Dementieva.
When the subject of how difficult it was to beat the Williams sisters — Serena has 18 grand slam titles and Venus seven — Tarpischev made his controversial comments.
After a translation of his remarks became public, the WTA responded immediately and its chief Stacey Allaster pulled no punches.
“The statements made by Shamil Tarpischev on Russian television with respect to two of the greatest athletes in the history of women’s tennis are insulting, demeaning and have absolutely no place in our sport,” she said.
“I have ordered Mr. Tarpischev to be fined $25,000, the maximum allowed under WTA rules. In addition, he will be suspended from any involvement with the WTA for one year and we are seeking his removal from his position as Chairman of the Board of the Kremlin Cup for one year.”
Tarpischev claimed he had not intended to insult the sisters and that his remarks were light hearted.
“Serena and Venus (Williams) are without doubts outstanding athletes,” he said in a statement released by Russia’s tennis federation.
“The situation that has spontaneously emerged during the late night chat show had a bad influence on the perception of tennis in genral and splits our friendly and cohesive team.
“I’m sorry that the joke which was taken out of context and attracted so much attention,” he added.
Tarpischev’s U.S. counterpart David Haggerty, the president of the USTA, was angered by the remarks and issued a strongly worded condemnation.
“As the President of the Russian Tennis Federation and a member of the International Olympic Committee, Mr. Tarpischev is expected to conduct himself with the highest degree of integrity and sportsmanship. Unfortunately, his comments do not embody either of these traits and in fact were reprehensible,” he said.
She heads the Red Group, which also contains Simona Halep and Eugenie Bouchard, two of the most promising young players in world tennis, and former world number one Ana Ivanovic.
The White Group is topped by second seed Maria Sharapova and she is joined by Caroline Wozniacki, Agnieszka Radwanska and the in-form Petra Kvitova.
Williams, who has capped her season by winning the U.S. Open title, beating Wozniacki in the final, is desperate to finish her year by claiming the prestigious title for a third straight year.
“I think everyone here is here to win. Everyone here is tough. Every match is going to be tough, so you have to be ready for that,” Williams told the official WTA website ahead of the start of the tournament Monday.
The race to claim the final places in the men’s ATP Tour Finals in London next month is also hotting up with Britain’s Andy Murraydoing his chances no harm by reaching the final of the Austrian Open in Vienna.
He beat Viktor Troicki of Serbia 6-4 6-3 and will play rival and top seed David Ferrer in the final. Both men are battling for a spot but Ferrer had to dig deep to beat German fourth seed Philipp Kohlschreiber in a third set tiebreaker.
Only three spots are still on offer for the finals after U.S. Open winner Marin Cilic booked his place by reaching the semifinals of the Kremlin Cup.