Serena Williams is one of the greatest tennis players in the history of the sport, if not the greatest. In the U.S. Open final Saturday, however, she also revealed herself to a remarkably poor role model; a sore loser who rather pathetically cried sexism to cover her boorishness.
Make no mistake: Her antics on Saturday weren't those of a proud feminist striking a blow for women's rights. They were those of a whining crybaby looking for an excuse for her poor play.
Sexism didn't beat Serena Williams on Saturday. Racism didn't beat Serena Williams on Saturday. Naomi Osaka beat Serena Williams on Saturday.
Who's that? In the aftermath of Williams' meltdown, it's a fair question. The 20 year-old Japanese phenom (the first citizen of Japan ever to win a Grand Slam event) has been reduced to an afterthought; a footnote in the story of how the patriarchy robbed Williams of a match that was rightfully hers.
Only it wasn't. Osaka dominated Williams early, winning the first set 6-2. In the second game of the second set, chair umpire Carlos Ramos issued a code-of-conduct violation to Williams after determining that she was receiving illegal coaching from her coach in the stands.
Which she was. After the match, her coach Patrick Mouratoglou freely admitted it.
"I'm honest, I was coaching. I don't think she looked at me so that's why she didn't even think I was," he told ESPN immediately after the match ended. "But I was, like 100 percent of the coaches in 100 percent of the matches so we have to stop this hypocritical thing."
The Women's Tennis Association (WTA) rule book is quite clear about coaching from the stands:
Players shall not receive coaching during a match (including warm up) with the exception of the allowed coachingbreaks as defined in the On-Court Coaching Requests - Section XVII.H.3. Communication of any kind, audible orvisible, between a Player and a coach may be construed as coaching.
So is the U.S. Tennis Association (USTA) rule book:
Coaching is considered to be communication, advice or instruction of any kind and by any means to a player. In team events where there is a team captain sitting on-court, the team captain may coach the player(s) during a set break and when the players change ends at the end of a game, but not when the players change ends after the first game of each set and not during a tie-break game. In all other matches, coaching is not allowed.
Case 1: Is a player allowed to be coached, if the coaching is given by signals in a discreet way?Decision: No
Interestingly, neither the WTA nor the USTA has an "everyone is doing it" exception. Mouratoglou was caught coaching and his player was assessed the penalty.
After a second code of conduct violation (and a loss of a point) for smashing her racket, Williams continued to berate Ramos, calling him a "thief" and warning him, "You'll never work another one of my matches as long as you live."
Ramos, it seemed, had heard enough, and issued a third code of conduct violation, which cost Williams a game. Almost immediately, she appealed to U.S. Open officials by crying sexism.
"Do you know how many men do things that are much worse than that?" she pleaded, reiterating the charge of unequal treatment during her post-match press conference:
But does that charge have merit? Was Williams really singled out for extra-harsh treatment because she is a woman? Are women at the U.S. Open really held to standards that men are not?
The numbers don't support either claim. During this year's U.S. Open, there were 32 total code of conduct violations. 23 of them were called on men, just nine on women (including Williams' three on Saturday. If anything, since chair umpires called 71.8% of the code violations on men during the tournament, it may be more accurately stated that the Open held them to a higher standard than women.
Ramos himself does not call matches differently for women than he does for men. He is "well known for rigidity," according to a New York Times profile, and male players like "Novak Djokovic, Rafael Nadal and Nick Kyrgios, have complained on court after receiving code violations from Ramos."
At the 2017 French Open, during a fourth-round match between Nadal and Roberto Batista Agut, Ramos penalized Nadal for two time violations for slow play, the second of which cost Nadal a point
“There are umpires who sometimes put more pressure than others, and you have to accept this,” Nadal said after that match, which he won.
Nadal added: “I’m telling you this with some type of sadness, because I don’t want to have any problems. But this umpire is, I think, trying in a certain way to look for my faults, my errors. This is the impression I have.”
In the same interview, Nadal said of Ramos, “I respect him a lot.”
Nadal felt singled out, just as Williams did. Nadal is also a man. Could it be that perhaps Ramos merely calls his matches a lot more tightly than do other umpires? Neither Williams nor her defenders would acknowledge the possibility.
What about their claim, though, that the sport of tennis itself perpetuates unequal treatment of men and women by holding women to a higher standard of conduct?
This, too, does not seem to be true.
The record fine in a Grand Slam event was set at this year's Australian Open when Mischa Zverev (a man) had to surrender $45,000 for "unprofessional conduct." Last October, Fabio Fognini (another man) was provisionally fined $96,000 and suspended for two Grand Slam events for calling a female match umpire a "whore" in Italian during the 2017 U.S. Open.
Last year's Wimbledon Championship saw a spate of bad behavior (all by men), and tournament officials handed out what Time Magazine called "some of the largest fines in its history:"
This week, Australia’s Bernard Tomic was fined $15,000, the second highest recorded financial penalty in Wimbledon’s history, for “unsportsmanlike conduct,” according to Australia’s ABC news. (The largest, $20,000 was doled out to Italy’s Fabio Fognini in 2014.)
Russian Daniil Medvedev has also been hit with three separate fines, totaling $14,500 The Guardian reports. He racked up two of them for insulting Portuguese empire Mariana Alvez, and a third for tossing coins at her chair.
In October of 2016, Nick Kyrgios was fined a total of $41,500 and suspended for the remainder of the season for unprofessional conduct during the Shanghai Open.
All of these recent disciplinary actions, of course, dwarf the $17,000 fine Williams incurred on Saturday and demonstrate that the men's game is policed just as strictly (if not more so) than the women's game, but Williams' defenders still point to men's players like John McEnroe who were supposedly lauded for their outbursts while Williams was penalized for hers.
Judging by the long, long list of fines McEnroe racked up for his on-court antics, it's patently obvious that his behavior was no more tolerated than Williams'. McEnroe was even disqualified the 1990 Australian Open for incurring three code of conduct violations in a fourth round match against Mikael Pernfors.
Unlike Williams, McEnroe was leading the match when he incurred his third code violation and, unlike Williams--who only lost a game--he forfeited the entire match, meaning that McEnroe had a much more plausible claim that the umpire had cost him a match than Williams did.
And Williams, it should be noted, is no stranger to code violations herself. At the 2009 U.S. Open, she foot-faulted against Kim Clijsters and then surrendered match point when she told the umpire that she would "f***ing take the ball and shove it down your f***ing throat."
Two years later, a different chair umpire gave Williams a warning during a match against Samantha Stosur, but Williams confused her with the umpire who chaired her match against Clijsters and berated her during a changeover.
“If you ever see me walking down the hall, look the other way,” she said. “Because you’re out of control. You’re out of control. Totally out of control. You’re a hater and you’re just ... unattractive inside. Who would do such a thing? And I never complain. Wow. What a loser. You give a code violation because I expressed who I am? We’re in America last I checked.”
As one might expect, the umpire docked Williams a point. Interestingly, though, Williams didn't complain about unfair treatment, didn't immediately whine about sexism. She accepted the consequences of her outburst and continued the match.
Shamefully, she refused to do that on Saturday and in so doing robbed a fellow woman of her glory by ignorantly railing about "the patriarchy." All available evidence clearly disproves Williams' claims, however, and reveals her to be a victim not of sexism, but of her own insolence.