The Director of the Madrid Open Wants Serena Williams to Retire Because of Her Weight

In a sexist tirade on Romanian television, Ion Tiriac ridiculed Williams's age and weight

serena williams weight
Tim Clayton/Corbis via Getty Images

As if the greatest ever needed more fuel.

Earlier this week, Ion Tiriac, an 81-year-old former tennis player and current billionaire director of the Madrid Open, went on television in his home country of Romania and took a variety of ignorant potshots at Serena Williams. Most notably: “At this age and the weight she is now, she does not move as easily as she did 15 years ago … Serena was a sensational player. If she had a little decency, she would retire.”

It’s true that Williams is getting up there in years; she turned 39 last September. But she’s ranked 11th in the world. She won a title just last year, at the ASB Open in Auckland. It was her first since giving birth in 2018, a life-threatening labor that resulted in multiple surgeries. The fact that Williams battled all the way back to the top should be inspiring to everyone involved in the sport. Instead, for some, her setbacks and (perceived) imperfections are fodder for ridicule.

Unsurprisingly, when Williams first came back from her pregnancy, in 2018, Tiriac had something to say then, too. “With all due respect, Serena Williams is 36 and 90 kilograms, I would like to see something else …”

Williams’s online army, including her husband Alexis Ohanian, the founder of Reddit, came to her aid this week, calling Tiriac a “sexist clown” and a “disgusting person.” Fans pointed out that Williams was seeded 8th at the Australian Open, 6th at the French Open, and 3rd at the US Open this year. Does Tiriac want hundreds of female tennis players to immediately retire?

The simple truth is few athletes, period, have ever had to negotiate a cocktail of success and schadenfreude like Serena Williams. When a once-in-a-generation talent like Tom Brady brings stellar play into his 40s, he’s celebrated. But the same could also be said for a once-in-a-generation talent like Derek Jeter, who brought poor play into his 40s. It’s a time-honored tradition to look the other way as our heroes’ bodies finally begin to break down. They’ve earned that much.

Williams is the best player in the history of the sport. She deserves praise, and she deserves to delay her retirement tour for 10 years, when she’s ranked in the 300s, if that’s what she truly wants. What she doesn’t deserve though, are misogynistic appraisals from small men sitting on the sidelines. Show some respect, Mr. Tiriac. For those counting at home, Williams has 23 Grand Slam titles in singles. In his career, Tiriac had none.

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