Novak Djokovic sparks equal prize money in tennis debate

The world's leading male tennis player, Novak Djokovic, has sparked a fierce debate in the sport over prize money, suggesting male players should fight for more money as they attract more spectators.

Djokovic discussed the topic shortly after achieving his fifth BNP Paribas Open crown, against Canadian Milos Raonic in the Indian Wells final on Sunday, when he was asked about comments made by the tournament's director and CEO, Raymond Moore, who said players in the Women's Tennis Association (WTA) tour were "very, very lucky" and rode "on the coat-tails of the men."

Djokovic said that while it was a "very delicate" subject and that "women deserve respect and admiration for what they are doing", he added that male tennis players — the Association of Tennis Professionals (ATP) — should fight for more.

Novak Djokovic celebrates with the winner's trophy after defeating Milos Raonic during the men's final of the BNP Paribas Open.
Matthew Stockman | Getty Images Sport | Getty Images
Novak Djokovic celebrates with the winner's trophy after defeating Milos Raonic during the men's final of the BNP Paribas Open.

"I understand how much power and energy WTA and all the advocates for equal prize money have invested in order to reach that. I applaud them for that. I honestly do. They fought for what they deserve and they got it," Djokovic told reporters.

"On the other hand I think that our men's tennis world, ATP 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. But again, we can't complain because we also have great prize money in men's tennis."

When prompted further whether he believes prize money should be equal, Djokovic said all players should fight for what they think they deserve.

"Women should fight for what they think they deserve and we should fight for what we think we deserve. I think as long as it is like that and there is data and stats available and information upon who attracts more attention, spectators, who sells more tickets and stuff like that, in relation to that it has to be fairly distributed."

"I have tremendous respect for what women in global sport are doing and achieving," he added.

Moore's earlier comments sparked a furor in the tennis world, with Billie Jean King — who helped found and co-found a number of sports organizations, including WTA — tweeting that she was "disappointed" by Moore's comments.

Following the backlash, Moore later issued an apology, saying the comments about the WTA 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."

By CNBC's Alexandra Gibbs, follow her @AlexGibbsy and @CNBCi