In the most recent U.S. Open Women’s tennis final, world-famous Serena Williams got into a controversial interaction with an umpire. During the match, chair umpire Carlos Ramos, issued Williams a warning, and $4,000 fine, for receiving coaching from her coach in the stands, which is not allowed during matches. Already frustrated, Serena was taken aback at the next penalty she received after breaking her racquet following a difficult point. The second penalty led to a point being taken from her score, and another $3,000 fine. Finally, she confronted the chair umpire for taking away the point and accusing her of cheating. After calling him a thief and asking for him to apologize for being a thief, he took a game away from her- putting her opponent Naomi Osaka just a game away from winning the match- and fined her $10,000 for verbal abuse of an umpire.
The total $17,000 in fines and the most decorated women’s tennis player losing in the finals surely has the tennis community talking, but they may be talking about the wrong thing.
It is easy to side against Serena: to say that she acted irrationally and unprofessionally by fighting with the umpire. It is difficult to argue with an ump who obviously sees more than what spectators see, but to view this holistically, with the rest of her career in mind, a different image takes place.
Serena has faced much opposition in her career: beginning with her upbringing in Compton; through matches filled with unfair line calls; journalists constantly comparing her to animals such as a gorilla, saying her “manly build gives her an unfair advantage over the other women”; and commentators focusing largely on the outfits she chooses for tournaments, rather than the skills she is bringing to the court. By seeing all that she has gone through, it is easier to understand why she snapped when she did- fighting an umpire who may have just been making calls the way that he saw them, but to her seemed like another critic demeaning her success, and trying to inhibit her from playing the sport she loves.
Outfit which Serena was banned from wearing at the 2018 French Open
An important part of this situation, though, is that it has further drawn attention to the double standard in professional tennis that has existed for years. When women show any type of emotion on the court, they are deemed hysterical or bad sports, while men are considered strong-willed and outspoken. Take, for example, John McEnroe, who’s confrontational attitude and nearly uncontrollable anger on the court became a part of his image- that was the type of player he was and his fans loved him for it. His page on the International Tennis Hall of Fame website recounts one of his famous “outbursts” as a top 10 Wimbledon moment, and it was so marketable that he used the line which he approached the chair umpire with: “You cannot be serious”, as the title for his autobiography.
Serena has utilized her issue on the court to throw a spotlight on the double-standard and sexism in modern tennis, something which is often overlooked. On the court and in a press conference after the match, she stated how she understood the rules, but how they were being enforced was unfair, and she hopes that her unfortunate circumstance helps the next woman in her position.
Though it is important to note, this stance is not to advocate for rowdy behavior on the court, it is to advocate for men and women to be held to the same standard when it comes to acting on their emotions on the court.
Even after this conflict, and consequently losing the match, Serena still embodied the ideals of sportsmanship during the award ceremony. She congratulated and hugged the victor, Naomi Osaka, while also telling her fans to stop booing, for Naomi had done nothing to contribute to the issue. Serena held firm for what she believed in, while treating her opponent with respect, traits that can be few and far between to find amongst celebrities, and deserves respect, not attacks, for drawing attention to important issues in the tennis world.