Serena Williams was one match victory away from history. After giving birth to Alexis Olympia, the 23-time Grand Slam winner put on a dominate campaign during the 2018 U.S. Open. Her championship opponent was the 20-year-old Naomi Osaka, who was also on the road to bringing Japan their first U.S. Open grand slam.
Osaka put on a strong performance against her idol Williams, earning the first set 6-2. The first set was suspenseful, Osaka sending shoots to different parts of the court. Both players making each other scramble for hits, yet Williams struggled with her serve; the Compton native had six double faults compared to Osaka’s one in the match.
The tides of the match shifted when Williams was cited for her first of three violations. Her coach, Patrick Mouratoglou, was seen giving hand gestures. After that offense, Serena explained to umpire Carlos Ramos that she would rather lose than cheat. Later, Williams broke her racket; this violation costed her a point.
She confronted Ramos about the loss of the point by mentioning how rulings are more lenient on male players. Williams expressed that her character was attacked and wanted an apology; she eventually called Ramos a “thief.” The umpire gave her a verbal abuse violation. The final offense cost Williams a game and a $10,000 fine, the biggest fine in U.S. Open history.
“I’ve seen other men call other umpires several things. I’m here fighting for women’s rights and for women’s equality and for all kinds of stuff,” Williams said. “For me to say ‘thief,’ and for him to take 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,”’
Ultimately Osaka won the match 6-2 and 6-4 and Williams was tacked with a total $17,000 to pay in fines for the violations. The historic match shed a light on the double standard that female tennis players face and the mistreatment that has haunted Williams successful career.
Williams banter with the umpire and referees would garner support and backlash. Some people explain how she is enduring the mistreatment that is common for Black women. Others would call it a ‘meltdown,’ and note that she should have handled it better.
Men and women tennis players have supported Williams’ claims, some even admitting to calling an umpire worse than a “thief.”
“I will admit I have said worse and not gotten penalized,” said American tennis player James Blake. “I’ve also been given a “soft warning” by the [umpire] where they tell you knock it off or I will have to give you a violation. He should have at least given her that courtesy. Sad to mar a well-played final that way.”
Tennis icon Billie Jean King also weighed in on Twitter.
“When a woman is emotional, she’s “hysterical” and she’s penalized for it.,” King said. “When a man does the same, he’s “outspoken” & and there are no repercussions. Thank you, Serena Williams, for calling out this double standard. More voices are needed to do the same.”
Male players have been known to shout expletives at umpires and break multiple rackets at games.
A prime example was John McEnroe’s ejection at the 1990 Australian Open, where he threw rackets and swore at the umpire and the then Grand Slam Chief of Supervisors.
At the 2012 Australian Open, Cypriot Marcos Baghdatis broke four rackets and only paid a $1,250 fine.
Ramos is a Gold Badge International Tennis Federation Chair Umpire who moderated his first finals match in during Wimbledon in 2007. Known for his rigidity, he had run-ins with Venus Williams, Rafael Nadal, and Novak Djokovic.
Williams is one Grand Slam away from matching Margaret Court’s pacing record. Along with winning matches, Williams had endured multiple episodes of racial and sexual discrimination.