Serena Williams deserved better. Naomi Osaka deserved better. Tennis fans who tuned in to watch what they thought would be history in the making deserved much, much better.
Williams’ bid to win a record-tying 24th major singles title ended in controversy, boos and charges of sexism Saturday shortly after chair umpire Carlos Ramos penalized her a full game deep into the second set when she called him “a thief.”
Osaka played a terrific match to win her first major against her childhood idol, 6-2, 6-4. That performance, however, was overshadowed by Williams’ meltdown and Ramos’ overreaction to it.
In a surreal trophy presentation, both players cried and fans at Arthur Ashe Stadium stood and booed USTA officials.
“I know that everyone was cheering for her,’’ Osaka said. “I’m sorry it had to end like this.”
Williams was gracious on the presentation stand and asked fans to stop booing, but in her news conference an hour later, she questioned if she would have been treated the same way by the umpire if she were a man.
“I’ve seen other men call other umpires several things,” she said. “I’m here fighting for women’s rights and for women’s equality. For me to say ‘thief’ and for him to take away a game, it made me feel like it was a sexist remark. He’s never taken a game from a man because they said ‘thief.’ ”
Williams’ disagreement with Ramos began in the second game of the second set when he called Williams for a coaching violation. At that time, Williams walked over to Ramos and had a civil discussion with him, telling him: “I don’t cheat. I’d rather lose.” Williams then got a second violation and was penalized a point after smashing her racket to the ground when she was broken in the fifth game.
Williams then was issued a third violation for verbal abuse when she called Ramos “a thief” on the changeover. This meant that instead of serving at 3-4, she was serving at 3-5. Both Williams and the crowd were stunned by the turn of events, and the rest of the match was punctuated by boos.
Would Williams have been treated differently if she were a male tennis player? That’s hard to say. She certainly was treated differently than Nick Kyrgios was by another umpire earlier in the tournament. Kyrgios, you may remember, escaped a meltdown in his second-round match when the chair umpire gave him a pep talk that was caught on an open microphone.
Tennis great Billie Jean King said via Twitter on Saturday night that men and women players are held to different standards: “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. Thank you, @serenawilliams, for calling out this double standard. More voices are needed to do the same.”
In a statement released shortly after Williams made her postmatch comments, the WTA indicated in a statement that it would be reviewing what went on in the match.
“There are matters that need to be looked into that took place during the match,” the statement said. “For tonight, it is time to celebrate these two amazing players, both of whom have great integrity.”
Hours later, the USTA said in a statement: “The chair umpire’s decision was final and not reviewable by the tournament referee or the grand slam supervisor who were called to the court at the time.”
Williams, who gave birth to a daughter 53 weeks ago, clearly had a lot emotionally invested in this match. Winning a Grand Slam tournament as a 36-year-old new mom clearly was her dream. She clearly was devastated to see it unravel this way.
Regardless of whether she would have been treated differently if she were a man, one would have thought that the umpire could have found a less antagonistic way of keeping the situation under control so this clash between the greatest tennis player of all time — men or women — and a talented up-and-comer could have been decided purely on the court.
Assessing Serena Williams a one-game penalty in the second set of a Grand Slam final is like calling Michael Jordan for traveling with 10 seconds left in Game 7 of the NBA Finals. You may have the right to do so, but is this really how you want the championship to be decided? Is this really the treatment that tennis’ greatest player deserves? Is it really the treatment Osaka deserved after having such an incredible tournament?
I don’t think so.