What Happened at the US Open Women’s Finals?

Last week American tennis legend, Serena Williams, was defeated in straight sets by a young Japanese player named Naomi Osaka during the final round of the US Open at the Arthur Ashe Stadium. Having given birth just over a year ago, the fact that Williams was on the court, competing for her 24th Grand Slam Title is remarkable. Perhaps due to this impending, glorious “comeback,” emotions were running high at the Arthur Ashe Stadium. Chair umpire, Carlos Ramos, issued a warning to Williams, claiming that she had been receiving off-court coaching from her box. This covert insinuation that Williams was, effectively, cheating, produced a ripple effect of epic proportions. Williams approached the umpire chair and explained to Ramos that her coach had simply been giving her a “thumbs-up,” and that his attack of her character was inappropriate and offensive. But instead of ensuring Williams that that had not been his intention, Ramos signaled for the match to continue.

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Only moments after having received this warning about on-court etiquette, Williams was penalized a point after she slammed her racquet against the court, smashing her frame in the process. Williams, already upset about the error she had made in her stroke that had cost her a point, became only further enraged when the umpire announced his decision to penalize her a point. On a crossover, Williams referred to Ramos as a “thief” who had not only attacked her character, but was propagating sexist ideals within the tennis community. Ramos then announced that he would be penalizing Williams an entire game for verbal abuse—making it so that Osaka was merely one game away from winning the Grand Slam Title.

Williams, visibly distraught, claimed that male tennis players had said a lot worse things than “thief” while on the court, and had not received the same penalty as she had. Fellow tennis legend, Billie Jean King, initially supported Williams’ accusations of sexism in the Grand Slam Final, saying, “when a woman is emotional, she’s ‘hysterical’ and she’s penalized for it. When a man does the same, he’s ‘outspoken’ and there are no repercussions.” King, however, also was clear in her belief that Williams was “out of line” and did not display professionalism on the court. “The character was the biggest issue here,” King continued. “This is a human being you’re talking to. If [Ramos] had said, ‘I’m not attacking your character,’ everything would have been different.”Related image

Finally, although it was evident that the match had shaken Williams, in a showing of graciousness and sportsmanship, she congratulated her opponent, Naomi Osaka. Whether or not you believe that undercurrents of sexism were present at the US Open Women’s Singles match, this final match may very well be remembered as the impetus that drove a debate about sexism within the tennis community.