So I’ve listened to all the bluster about what Serena Williams did at the U.S. Open. I’ve watched it. I’m ready.
Serena Williams was in the wrong and I’m not alone in saying that. So let’s break this down:
The formaldehyde hit the fan in the second set when Carlos Ramos, the chair umpire for the match, issued a code violation for coaching. See, in Grand Slam events, unlike the Women’s Tennis Association regular tour, you aren’t allowed to coach from the coach’s box. You can’t make any gestures of any kind. Williams’s coach, Patrick Mouratoglou, admitted he was trying to coach but claimed he did it because everyone else does it too.
Well, you got caught. Same as a hockey player who gets sent to the penalty box for giving a player a punch in the snoot or a two-hander across the arm. They’ll claim the other player did it to them first. Maybe, but the official saw you do it so you get penalized.
And that’s the problem – Ramos caught him and issued the violation. Personally, I think it’s absolutely insane that a tennis player can’t receive coaching while the match is going on because that’s the way it works in every other sport.
Every. Other. Sport.
Problem is it’s still against the rules, whether you like it or not, and Ramos had no choice. Ramos doesn’t make the rules, he enforces them. He could have looked the other way and ignored it but that would have been wrong as well. That sounds like a cop-out and I’ve used that excuse as well when I’ve umpired in softball but it’s true. If you don’t like the rules, attend a rules forum or something similar and suggest a change.
Williams claimed she wasn’t cheating and I believe her. I don’t think she would cheat to win. She’s too good for that. You don’t get to be the greatest of all time by breaking the rules because you get caught eventually. Ask anyone who’s swallowed, snorted or syringed their way to the top. Again, rules are rules and this was a court violation.
For some reason, Williams couldn’t let it go. She is a ferocious competitor and I always admire anyone who plays the game with passion. This time, though, it got the better of her because later in the set, she smashed her racquet on the court after losing a game. That too is a court violation and anyone who does it gets penalized. To use a baseball analogy, this was strike two and resulted in a point penalty, meaning Williams started the next game down 15-love.
Strike three was the one which had everyone talking. In a changeover, Williams started remonstrating with Ramos to the point where she called him a ‘cheat’ and a ‘thief’. Court violation – verbal abuse. Williams now lost a full game.
This is where I have a problem. I don’t know any official that would put up with being called either of those terms. In fact, if you did it in any other sport, there’s a good chance you would be tossed. I’ve seen it in rugby where a player, Dylan Hartley, was red-carded for calling referee Wayne Farmer a ‘f—ing cheat’ and if you listen close, you can make out the words.
Williams was rightly fined by the tournament organizers for her actions, which she claimed were based on sexism. OK, this is where a lot of people plugged their ears, including myself. This had nothing to do with gender because men get it just as well. Let’s travel back in time, shall we, to the 2017 U.S. Open when Fabio Fognini of Italy was rightly disqualified – yeah, booted – for referring to a female umpire in rather distasteful terms during a match. Look it up if you want to find out what he said.
Important to note: Williams wasn’t penalized for abuse until she accused Ramos of being a cheat and a thief. In fact, most tennis umpires let the players vent but again, there are magic words that not one official in any sport will put up with and ‘cheat’ is one of them as evidenced above.
And if you care, Ramos has handed out violations to other star players as well. Take the 2017 French Open, for example. Ramos was in the chair when he issued two warnings for slow play to Rafael Nadal of Spain. He’s also penalized Novak Djokovic for racquet abuse at Wimbledon 2017 (although that’s a bit dubious because Kei Nishikori also threw his racquet in the same match and got away with it) and Andy Murray was nicked at the 2016 Summer Olympics for referring to Ramos as “stupid.”
He’s a stickler for the rules and that irks some people but he’s doing his job. There was nothing sexist about what he did to Williams and anyone who disagrees is doing so with absolutely no evidence to back up their assertion.
For the perfect back and forth on this, watch Stephen A. Smith and Max Kellerman from ESPN’s First Take. You’ll see why Smith is considered one of the pre-eminent commentators in sports and why Kellerman isn’t. Smith comes with facts to back up his points while Kellerman just yells and makes clueless claims that Mike Trout or LeBron James wouldn’t be thrown out of big games for arguing. Uh, yeah, they would – and should be – because if they weren’t, the officials wouldn’t be doing their jobs.
And no, Mike Greenberg of ESPN, this wasn’t the worst day tennis has ever seen. Monica Seles may have something to say about that. Ask her how it felt when she was stabbed in the back by a deranged fan of Steffi Graf in a match in 1993. I’m a fan of Greenberg’s on most every other day but he’s wrong on this one.
By the way, in case you’re wondering, Naomi Osaka of Japan made history by winning the match in straight sets and became the first player representing Japan to win one of tennis’ Grand Slam singles titles. But with all of this other crap that went on, you’d never know it. Poor Osaka was reduced to tears after the match because the crowd was booing so loudly. This was supposed to be Osaka’s moment and this is how she’ll remember it. Pathetic.
I’d like to offer hearty congratulations to Osaka for her win and I hope this is the start of a wonderful career as she continues her ascent to the top.
Even if no one else cares about it right now.