The crowd erupted into a chorus of aggressive “boo’s.” Serena Williams, arguably the greatest female tennis player of all time, had just been given a game penalty for calling the chair umpire a “thief,” leaving her opponent, 20-year-old Naomi Osaka, a game away from winning her first Grand Slam title.
Osaka skillfully went on to win the match in straight sets, but unfortunately, that was not what most viewers will remember from this gripping tennis event. Instead, the shocking sexism that the umpire, Carlos Ramos, displayed toward Williams, will be what sticks in the public’s memory. At a time when women’s rights is a prevalent issue, this event is a major step backward.
Ramos first issued a warning when he caught Williams’ coach, Patrick Mouratoglou, suggesting a strategy to her by motioning with his hands. Though it was an illegal action, as stated by the Grand Slam Rulebook, Mouratoglou himself said that other coaches also try to coach during matches all the time.
Williams, bothered by the ruling, confronted Ramos and demanded an apology from him.
“I don’t cheat to win. I’d rather lose,” Williams firmly told Ramos, to a loud cheer from the crowd. She took his ruling as an insult against her character and training, as well as being discriminatory just because she is a woman.
“Competition can bring [emotions] out of people. It comes down to making sure that you are able to keep your emotions under control and use them in a positive way,” said Jennifer Griffin, Athletic Director and PE teacher. “Unfortunately, bad sportsmanship will probably not go away, it tends to come with the competitive nature of sports.”
Though Williams might have displayed “bad sportsmanship”, she was justified in her reaction because after such a long struggle for equal rights in our society, such insults are difficult not to pay heed to. Williams is at a point in her career where she has won enough accolades and does not have a problem stepping up and firmly believing in what is right, as she has numerous supporters to back her up.
“It doesn’t really matter what [anyone] says, I wouldn’t care,” said freshman and tennis player Hillary Chang, who has been in a similar situation, where she was called a cheater by her opponent, during a match. “But, because [Williams] is looked up to, I think she cares a lot more than me. At my level, there aren’t many people watching, so it’s easier for me to just focus on the match.”
Williams also mentioned that she is a role model for her young daughter, as well as upcoming generations, and she would never act against the rules or cheat and serve as a negative role model. Furthermore, it is very hard for anyone to take an insult to their background and character at such a public level, but Williams made sure that the viewers knew what was happening was wrong and “not fair”, like she furiously repeated many times.
As the match carried on, Williams seemed to appear a little shaken. Then, after one particularly hard rally, she received a point penalty for smashing her racquet down in frustration. Infuriated, she confronted Ramos once again, and a game penalty quickly followed. It all happened within a span of just two minutes. The audience was left dumbstruck; watchers couldn’t wrap their heads around the fact that Williams, one of the greatest female athletes, had been unjustly forced to be only a game away from losing her 31st appearance in a Grand Slam final.
The events at the match left many in utter disbelief, not only in regards to the outcome of the match, but also because of the imprudent sexism. The double standards in the treatment of male and female athletes was at a new high. For the first major tennis tournament to be rewarding both male and female athletes equally in prize money, the 2018 U.S. Open did not leave a positive impression of gender equity on its viewers.
“It was more than just the sport or a call. If I was in Serena’s position, I might have reacted the same way. Women are not allowed to react the same way as men, in sport. Though she has the same passion, the tennis community wants her to tone it down,” PE teacher Porchia Jenkins said. “She’s getting hit at all angles, and I think a lot of why she reacted that way is because it was a buildup of everything that has been happening to her in the recent past. She was just overwhelmed with all of the challenges she had to overcome, and burst at that moment.”
In the past, male players who have committed similar or more offenses have not received the same appalling treatment Williams did. John McEnroe, 16-time Grand Slam champion, is infamous for arguing with umpires and using obscene language on the court, but was penalized very few times for doing so during his career. At the 2012 Australian Open, Marcos Baghdatis broke four racquets in a row, but only given a $1295 fine, which is less than half of the $3000 fine Williams had to pay, in addition to the point penalty, as a consequence for breaking her racquet.
“Male tennis is more popular, so [the umpires] try not to disrupt the game by giving penalties because they want the matches to go smoothly. [Women’s tennis] is slightly less popular, so it’s easier to make calls,” sophomore and tennis player Ryan Yoon said.
The sexism at this match also overshadowed Osaka’s brilliant victory and skill. She was a strong competitor all throughout the tournament, and it was not a big surprise that she won, as she was younger and fresher than Williams. She is even credited as the “next Serena” because of her similar playing style and intensity. But her victory will always have a grey cloud over it due to the overlying controversy, which is extremely unfortunate.
Moving forward, there are certain actions that need to be taken, not only in the tennis world, but also off the court, so that women are not discriminated against because of their gender. Rules at major sporting events need to be more sensitive to the gender of the player. There are certain things that affect women differently than they do men. For example, the decision to ban William’s French Open outfit, her infamous catsuit, displayed insensitivity toward female athletes. An altered physicality and specific medical needs are inevitable outcomes of a pregnancy, which Williams had gone through in 2017. Moreover, the promotion of the idea that women are weaker or incapable must be stopped. It is a big task to accomplish because of the history of our male-centric society, but a step in the ethical direction would leave a positive impact for future generations.
The 2018 U.S. Open women’s finals provided many important lessons to the world, from society’s relentless patriarchy to the abuse of power. In order for similar incidents to not occur in the future, changes need to be made so that female athletes do not have to be penalized over actions that are common in their male counterparts’ world.