Cake-gate might not be the biggest inequality on the tennis tour – but it’s not a good look

It isn’t the biggest battle to fight, but it’s a notable one

How delightful to celebrate the world No 2’s birthday! A reigning Grand Slam singles champion, marking the occasion of their birth during the Mutua Madrid Open, a tournament they had previously won, and one they had hopes again of winning again this year!

Truly, Friday 5th May was a very special day.

Well, for Carlos Alcaraz. He beat Borna Coric 6-4, 6-3 in his semi-final on the Manolo Santana court and was promptly presented with a magnificently epic cake to mark his 20th birthday, surrounded by dignitaries and smiling ball-models.

Not so much for Aryna Sabalenka, to whom that description above also applies, and for her 25th birthday was given a significantly smaller cake in some kind of indoor photo shoot.

Now, of course all the arguments raised by tournament director Feliciano Lopez are understandable – he must have felt that two nice gestures were being utterly misinterpreted.

Alcaraz is a Spanish player, a former world No 1, much loved by his home crowd, and who has brought some star quality to a men’s field significantly lacking it this year. He was playing on Friday so the schedule lined up perfectly to mark his emergence from teenager to 20-something.

But the optics are not good. That’s particularly the case because it’s in Madrid, a tournament with a history of not treating its female stars especially well. The use of female ball-models, clad in their midriff-baring outfits, on the show courts has caused much discussion for years; bringing in male models for the women’s matches was a sop towards heading off some of that criticism. Former tournament owner Ion Tiriac has long dismissed any ideas of sexism, with one delightful quote running: “I like, very much more, women than men. All my life, I’ve done that. The longer their legs are, the more beautiful I think they are. Even in tennis, they’re gracious and so on.”

It’s not surprising that Victoria Azarenka’s tweet on the topic had a certain sense of inevitable weariness about it: “Couldn’t be more accurate on the treatment.” Female players clearly expect this kind of reception – and that’s sad.

Sure, there are more important problems in the world than the size of a birthday cake – and there are bigger questions around inequality between men and women in sports generally and in tennis more specifically. But all in all, with the chance to celebrate two top players equally on the very same day, Madrid put on a veritable coronation for the man, and presented the woman with a small cake in a corridor. It’s just not a great look.

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