Sports

Serena Williams Downplays “Catsuit” Controversy, Describes “Wonderful Relationship” With French Tennis Federation President

PARIS, FRANCE - JUNE 02:  Serena Williams of The United States celebrates victory during the ladies singles third round match against Julia Georges of Germany during day seven of the 2018 French Open at Roland Garros on June 2, 2018 in Paris, France.  (Photo by Cameron Spencer/Getty Images)
Serena Williams in her “Wakanda-inspired catsuit” at the 2018 French Open.
Cameron Spencer/Getty Images

The compression bodysuit worn by Serena Williams at this year’s French Open blended science and fashion to outstanding effect, but French Tennis Federation president Bernard Giudicelli wasn’t a fan. “I think that sometimes we’ve gone too far,” Giudicelli said of Williams’ suit in a recent interview with Tennis magazine. “It will no longer be accepted. One must respect the game and the place.”

The comments sparked controversy this week as Williams prepares for the US Open. Nike designed the bodysuit for Williams when the tennis great suffered a life-threatening pulmonary embolism after giving birth, and the compression helps with blood circulation. “It feels like this suit represents all the women that have been through a lot mentally, physically, with their body to come back and have confidence and to believe in themselves,” she said at the French Open in May.

“I call it, like, my Wakanda-inspired catsuit,” Williams said, in reference to summer blockbuster Black Panther. “We designed it way before the movie, but still, it kind of reminds me of that.” In response to Giudicelli’s comments, Nike posted a tweet featuring a picture of Williams at the 2018 French Open with the text, “You can take the superhero out of her costume, but you can never take away her superpowers.”

Giudicelli’s criticism of Williams’ look and his evocation of “respect” earned more direct condemnation from others. In an article for espnW.com, Staceyann Chin described his comments as a “one-two philosophical punch of racism and sexism … delivered under the disguise of new dress codes.” Tennis legend Billie Jean King tweeted, “Criticizing what [Williams] wears to work is where the true disrespect lies.”

On Saturday, Williams fielded questions at the US Open and downplayed the controversy. “Obviously the Grand Slams have a right to do what they want to do,“ she told reporters, “but I feel like if they know that some things are for health reasons then there’s no way that they wouldn’t be OK with it.”

When asked whether there were negotiations about the bodysuit, Williams said that Giudicelli has been “amazing” in discussions. “He’s been so easy to talk to,” Williams said. “My whole team is basically French, so, yeah, we have a wonderful relationship. I’m sure we would come to an understanding and everything will be okay. Yeah, so it wouldn’t be a big deal. He’s a really great guy.”

It wasn’t exactly clear whether or not she will be allowed to wear a similar bodysuit at next year’s French Open, but Williams said she has other methods for dealing with circulatory issues. “I wear tights that keep everything going with my blood,” she said. “When it comes to fashion, you don’t want to be repeat offender.”