US Open (tennis)

US Open: sexism against Serena – organisers and umpire Carlos Ramos owe Williams an apology for their double standards

Tennis world is divided on behaviour in final loss to Naomi Osaka but evidence shows that men and their coaches get an easier ride

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 09 September, 2018, 3:15pm
UPDATED : Sunday, 09 September, 2018, 3:15pm

A good umpire has to remain fair, impartial, and aware of the situation and stakes before interpreting and enforcing rules. Above all else, an umpire should never impact the outcome of a match.

Carlos Ramos, of Portugal, like a long list of other over-active umpires and officials in tennis, overstepped his boundaries and turned the most brilliant match of the year into the most bizarre grand slam final in recent tennis history.

Ramos, ignoring recent shifts towards allowing on-court coaching at WTA events and even US Open qualifier and junior matches, decided to single out Serena and her coach Patrick Mouratoglou, who claims that most coaches, including Toni Nadal, are coaching players “all the time”.

At a critical juncture in the second set, Ramos cautioned Serena Williams for receiving coaching, effectively stealing her momentum as she roared back from a set down to Naomi Osaka, a Florida resident and American citizen who plays for Japan, where she lived until age three.

Ramos didn’t need to strictly enforce that outdated rule, because no amount of coaching would have saved Serena from Osaka’s 184km/h serves sliding out wide or her consistency, speed and passing shots.

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Then Ramos penalised Serena a point for smashing a racquet, which mad genius tennis players often do under pressure. Even worse, Ramos took a full game – not just a point – away from her for “verbal abuse” instead of ignoring a volatile player and letting her blow off steam.

This wasn’t any game. It gave Osaka a commanding 5-3 lead and a chance to close out the match on her serve, which she did.

Outraged former top US players Brad Gilbert, Andy Roddick and Mardy Fish on Twitter called it a terrible decision.

But many observers, especially outside the United States, are blaming Serena for losing her temper and framing her tirades as part of her lifelong quest for equality and women’s rights.

None of this would have happened if Ramos had done his job properly and stayed above the fray.

Imagine if referees strictly enforced rules the way Ramos did the outdated “no coaching” rule at the contentious US Open final.

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Rafa Nadal, Novak Djokovic, Marin Cilic and others would be penalised multiple points every match or banned from events for taking too much time before serving.

Nick Kyrgios would be thrown out of the sport for his antics, including tanking, slut-shaming WTA player Donna Vekic and breaking a racquet that apparently injured a ballboy recently in Ohio. Maria Sharapova and other women would be banned for shrieking after every ball strike to distract their opponent’s concentration. Almost every player in history other than Bjorn Borg, Pete Sampras or Roger Federer would be banned for racquet smashing or abusive comments to umpires or somebody else.

So, is it fair to single out Serena?

Serena Williams complained that men get away with saying much worse things to umpires. She’s right. Sitting courtside at matches, I often hear Djokovic, Kyrgios, Sascha Zverev, Fabio Fognini, Benoit Paire, Jack Sock and others lambast umpires in various languages.

Is Serena worse than them for calling Ramos a “thief”?

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Andre Agassi admitted taking banned substances. Ilie Nastase still insults women.

Serena Williams has been accused too – and never convicted. She claims she’s unfairly tested for doping more than any other player.

Society hasn’t always been nice to her and other African-American women. She’s had to deal with racism and sexism her whole life, simply because she’s a successful black female. The man convicted of murdering her sister was recently released from jail. Armies of trolls are disparaging Serena, not him.

This is what tennis officials have done to Serena recently. They wouldn’t give back her top ranking because she took off several months to give birth, nearly dying from complications. She’s had to work her way through unfairly difficult draws because of her lower ranking.

The French Tennis Federation created a new rule to stop her from wearing a “catsuit”, which she claims is necessary to prevent blood clots. US Open officials made her and others play in dangerous heat and humidity amid the most extreme year of weather in North American history.

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They also punished Alize Cornet for changing her shirt on court, which men routinely do.

And here’s the kicker. The US Open didn’t punish respected umpire Mo Lahyani for coming down from his chair to give Kyrgios a pep talk – de facto “coaching” a player.

And then US Tennis Association executives assigned a man to umpire a final between two women when qualified women were assigned to umpire men’s singles and doubles finals. Isn’t that sexist? Would a skilled female umpire such as Alison Hughes infuriate Serena and take a game away from her near the end of a fierce battle? Probably not.

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Did Serena act improperly at the US Open final? Yes, she lost her cool and berated an umpire.

But she is the one filling stadiums, generating billions of revenue and carrying the sport, not Carlos Ramos. She’s one of the most powerful women in American history. She deserves the respect she’s earned, even if that means umpires developing a thick skin and turning a blind eye to her nastier side.