The tennis world is divided over the exchange between Serena Williams and chair umpire Carlos Ramos at the US Open final last week.
The match saw 20-year-old Naomi Osaka defeat six-time US Open Champion Serena Williams 6-2, 6-4. After Williams lost badly in the first set, Williams's trainer, Patrick Mouratoglou, made signals to her during the match, which is considered illegal coaching. Williams later broke her tennis racquet on the court after losing a game.
Williams received escalating penalties for both actions, which amounted to one point for the coaching violation and two points for breaking her racquet. She was then penalised a game for her verbal attack on the umpire following the penalties. She angrily approached the chair umpire twice, calling the chair umpire a "liar" and a "thief" for treating her differently from male players who have performed similar actions and not been penalised. Since the match, the US Tennis Association has fined Williams an additional $17,000 for her violations.
Those in favour of Ramos' response to Williams argue that he did nothing but enforce the rules. Those supporting Williams argue that those rules often are often poorly enforced, particularly in high intensity matches, and the times when they are enforced inflict a double standard on women in the sport. Coaches signalling their players during a game, for example, is technically illegal but is rarely called.
Tennis great John McEnroe, one of the game's most tempestuous characters in his playing days, said the sport must find a way to allow players to express feelings and inject their personality into the game while adhering to the rules. McEnroe told ESPN that Williams should not have been given a violation for breaking her racquet and that the umpire should have warned her early on about what would happen if she did not move on, he said.
"I've said far worse," said McEnroe, a seven-times Grand Slam singles winner, on ESPN. "She's right about the guys being held to a different standard, there's no question."
On the other hand, Richard Ings, a former professional chair umpire who also used to be the ATP Tour Executive Vice-President, Rules and Competition, felt it was Williams who needed to apologise. Ings once issued a warning, point penalty and a game penalty against McEnroe at the 1987 US Open for obscenities directed at the umpire.
"We should not let her record, as glowing as it is, overshadow the fact that on this day, in this match Williams was wrong," Ings wrote in The Sydney Morning Herald. "The decisions made by Ramos had nothing to do with sexism or racism. They had everything to do with observing clear breaches of the grand slam code of conduct and then having the courage to call them without fear or favour."
Reuters reports that the official Grand Slam rulebook seems to be slightly more lenient than demonstrated in the match. According to the rules, a first infraction gets a warning, a second offence results in a point penalty while a third brings about a game penalty. Williams lost a point beginning with her trainer's first mid-game coaching infraction. However, the rule book also states that players who receive coaching during a match or intentionally destroy a racquet shall be penalised in accordance with the point penalty schedule, which appears to support Ramos' decision to penalise the first infraction.
The debate over sexism in tennis has overshadowed the mutually supportive words between the two players in the final.
Before receiving her runner-up prize, Serena thanked the fans for their support and said, “I don’t want to be rude, I don’t want to do questions, she [Osaka] played well, this is her first Grand Slam” and added (after a moment of emotional silence), “let’s make this the best moment… let’s not boo any more… congratulations Naomi”.
As reported by Reuters, Osaka was full of praise for her childhood idol, and said, "It was always my dream to play Serena in the US Open finals ... I’m really grateful I was able to play with you."
In response to Osaka’s compliment, 23-time Grand Slam winner Serena praised the performance of her opponent and said, "She was so focused… I think, whenever I had a break point, she came up with a great serve. Honestly, there's a lot I can learn from her from this match. I hope to learn a lot from that."