US Open | Time for Serena to say sorry
The brouhaha that Serena Williams caused at the US Open has completely eclipsed the glorious achievement of the newly-crowned champion, Naomi Osaka.
The young Japanese refuses to criticise Williams after her historic US Open victory was overshadowed by the American’s furious row with the chair umpire, melting hearts when she broke down sobbing after thrashing her idol 6-2 6-4 to become Japan’s first Grand Slam singles champion in New York last weekend.
For me I don't feel sad because I wouldn't even know what I'm expected to feel. I just thought I shouldn't have any regrets. Overall I felt really happy and know I accomplished a lot. Naomi Osaka
After returning to Japan on Thursday, the 20-year old insisted there were no hard feelings towards Williams, who branded umpire Carlos Ramos a ‘thief’ in an astonishing tantrum triggered by a warning for admitted coaching that escalated until she was docked a full game.
“For me I don’t feel sad because I wouldn’t even know what I’m expected to feel,” said Osaka, who has climbed from 19 to 7th in the new WTA rankings.
“I just thought I shouldn’t have any regrets. Overall I felt really happy and know I accomplished a lot,” she added.
Osaka, who competes at next week’s Pan Pacific Open in Tokyo, revealed her plans to break into the top 5 this year, and to win a gold medal at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.
“I think, for this year, my immediate goal would be to get to Singapore,” said Osaka after putting herself firmly in contention to reach the season-ending WTA Finals.
All well and good, but Williams continues to steal the headlines, with opinion sharply divided on her behaviour.
The Australian newspaper accused of publishing a racist cartoon of her has defended itself with a special front page railing against the ‘PC world’.
The Herald Sun reprinted the controversial cartoon by Mark Knight on Wednesday following a widespread backlash from across the world.
It showed 23-time Grand Slam winner Williams jumping on a broken racket during her dispute with a chair umpire in the US Open fina and was featured alongside caricatures based on Donald Trump and Kim Jong-un.
“If the self-appointed censors of Mark Knight get their way on his Serena Williams cartoon, our new politically correct life will be very dull indeed,” the paper claimed on its front page.
Mr Knight said that he created the cartoon after watching Williams’ tantrum at the US Open and that it was designed to illustrate ‘her poor behaviour on the day, not about race’.
Serena’s husband, Alexis Ohanian, who is building a reputation for his regular public support of his wife, had to get into the mix, describing the cartoon as ‘blatantly racist and misogynistic’.
He also took aim at Herald Sun editor Damon Johnston, who defended Knight at the height of the controversy saying: “A champion tennis player had a mega tantrum on the world stage, and Mark’s cartoon depicted that. It had nothing to do with gender or race.”
Williams herself has been silent on the matter, posting a caption-less photograph of herself and daughter Olympia as the furore further unfolded.
She did make an appearance in front of a business trade group in Las Vegas to talk about her fashion business and her family, but took no questions from the audience and made no mention of the chaotic final in New York.
Still seething over the incident is one of the most senior tennis officials in America, Bob Christianson of San Diego, who has worked 38 consecutive Opens, including the most recent.
Christianson isn’t buying the sexism argument Williams claimed in the heat of the moment, or the double-standard debate backed by USTA President Katrina Adams.
“That’s the worst brouhaha I’ve witnessed in my 40-plus years of tennis officiating,” Christianson, 67, said on Thursday.
“What we’re looking for, we’re looking for an apology from Serena to the official or officials in general. And if we don’t get that, there might be a potential boycott of her next match.
“We’ve never had to go to this extent. But officials are scared. They’re worried what happened to Carlos could happen to them. You do your job and you’re condemned for it.”
He called out Adams and WTA Chief Executive Steve Simon for ‘throwing us under the bus’, as the ITF rushed to support Ramos.
“We as officials have no spokesman or advocate for us,” he said. “And we’re not supposed to talk to the press without permission. So we have no way to get our point across. We’re completely muzzled.
“You reach a point in life, you have to make a stand.”
He has a point because Williams was praised as a great champion at the trophy presentation, despite her petulant behaviour during the women’s final.
“Perhaps it’s not the finish we were looking for today, “said Katrina Adams, Chairman and President of the USTA, “but Serena, you are a champion of all champions. This mama is a role model and respected by all.”
Role model and respected by all?
During the match, she was warned because her coach gave her hand signals from the sidelines, which sent her into a rage, then smashed her racket into the court, for which she was docked a point.
That prompted her to rant further at the umpire, calling him a ‘liar’ and a ‘thief’ resulting in a verbal abuse code violation, the three infringements adding up to an automatic one-game penalty.
Plus Williams is no stranger to controversy.
In 2004 she lost her quarter-final match to Jennifer Capriati and was upset by several line calls resulted in the removal of umpire Mariana Alves from officiating.
At the 2009 US Open, during her semi-final against Kim Clijsters, she was penalised for a foot fault, and threatened the line judge; “I swear to God I’ll take the f—king ball and shove it down your f—king throat.”
She received a hefty fine and was placed on probation.
In 2011, Williams yelled these choice morsels at the umpire after shouting while her opponent was preparing to strike the ball: “I truly despise you. If you ever see me walking down the hall, look the other way because you’re out of control, you’re out of control. You’re totally out of control. You’re a hater and you’re just unattractive inside…Really, don’t even look at me. I promise you don’t look at me… Don’t look my way.’”
In each of these incidents Williams was losing the match and certainly not displaying behaviour worthy of a role model.
Fellow player Barbora Strycova blasted Williams for her most recent behaviour, claiming she is a bad loser who demands preferential treatment.
The World No 25’s comments came a week after Williams blew up at umpire Ramos and then went on to claim that she was a victim of sexism after receiving the three code violations.
“This is a bullshit. For umpires being women or men doesn’t matter,” Strycova said. “In comparison, I never saw [Rafael] Nadal shouting like that with an umpire.
“The WTA’s defence [of Serena] surprised me. Will rules change in Serena’s matches? If it’s like this, let me know.
“Ramos is tough, one of the best umpires in the world. He did what he had to do in that match, because she overcame the limit.
“Did she have to behave differently only because she was Serena Williams? I find it interesting that she did it only when she was losing.”
Serena ranted at Brian Earley, the Tournament Referee: “There are men out here who do a lot worse than me, but because I’m a woman you are going to take this away from me? That is not right.”
As for the implied double standards, Christopher Clarey, writing in The New York Times, reported that according to data compiled by officials at Grand Slam tournaments over the past 20 years, men were penalised more often for verbal abuse.
The figures, obtained by The New York Times, showed that from 1998 to 2018 at the four Grand Slam events, men were fined for misbehaviour with much more frequency than women, with one significant exception: coaching violations.
Fines are a result of investigations by the Tournament Referee and the Grand Slam Supervisor into code-of-conduct violations assessed by the chair umpire during a match, and men have been fined 646 times for racket abuse and 287 times for unsportsmanlike conduct, while women were fined 99 times for racket abuse and 67 times for unsportsmanlike conduct during that same time span.
The disparities are similar for audible obscenity fines (344 for the men, 140 for the women) and, most relevant to Williams’s complaint, verbal abuse (62 for the men, 16 for the women).
The Grand Slam rule book defines verbal abuse as a statement about an official that ‘implies dishonesty or is derogatory, insulting or otherwise abusive’.
Though Williams did not use an obscenity, she did accuse Ramos of dishonesty, which triggered the code-of-conduct violation and, later, a $10,000 fine for that offence alone.
Some of the disparity between the men’s and women’s fines can be explained by the fact that men play more tennis at Grand Slam tournaments, best-of-five-set matches in singles at all four majors and also best-of-five in men’s doubles at Wimbledon, while women play best-of-three-set matches in all instances.
Women, however, have received 152 fines over the 20-year span, compared with 87 for men for coaching.
The first of Williams’s three code violations during the Open final was for illegal coaching, and her coach, Patrick Mouratoglou, later acknowledged that he used hand signals, though he was not certain that Williams had seen them.
In-match coaching is banned at all Grand Slam tournaments during main-draw singles and doubles matches.
Clarey claims it is unclear why women are penalised more often for violating the rule, other than they are accustomed to receiving in-match coaching during regular tour events, where coaches are allowed to come on court once per set with certain exceptions.
This type of coaching has been allowed during WTA matches since the 2009 season, but coaching from the stands remains illegal, and there was an appreciable increase in the number of fines for female players since coaching became legal on the WTA Tour.
“Serena was out of line. There’s no question,” Billie Jean King told CNN on Tuesday. “No one is saying she was a good sport. If they are they are crazy. She was totally out of line. She knows it.”
King’s remarks were something of a retraction of her earlier comments when she said that Williams had faced down sexism with her protests.
“The point is he [the umpire] aggravated the situation. ‘I’m not attacking your character,’ is the most important thing he could have said,” King told CNN. “I think everything would have been different.”
King added she hoped the incident would bring about needed changes to the sport, including allowing for direct communication between the umpire and the fans over a loudspeaker and ending the ban on coaching during Grand Slam matches.
“Crisis creates an opportunity to get it right,” she concluded.
The jury is out on the coaching thing, but it is clear that consistency across the Grand Slams and the women’s and men’s pro tours is now becoming a real necessity.
Eve Muirhead, writing in the Dundee Courier, said Serena Williams showed her true colours and wasn’t fighting for women’s rights at all in the US Open final: “She was losing the plot and then trying to cover her tracks afterwards.
“It looked to me to be a classic case of a player wanting to win so badly that when she realised it wasn’t going to happen, she lashed out. The umpire may have triggered it, but he wasn’t the main reason.
“I think she was so caught up in the moment that she became oblivious to the millions watching – and to her opponent, whose big moment was tarnished. She just wasn’t able to rein herself back in.
“To claim sexism and to speak about wanting to show an example to her daughter was just a cover-up.
“I actually think that trying to portray the incident as an example of prejudice against women will do more harm than good to the campaign against genuine injustices that do crop up in sport,” Muirhead added.
“Her post-match press conference was the time to back off and apologise, not dig a deeper hole.”
Martina Navratilova, also writing in The New York Times, said Serena should have been thinking about the example she was setting.
“There have been many times when I was playing that I wanted to break my racket into a thousand pieces,” Navratilova wrote in the article, also published by The Times. “Then I thought about the kids watching. And I grudgingly held on to that racket.
“I do not believe it’s a good idea to apply a standard of: ‘If men can get away with it, women should be able to, too.’ Rather, I think the question we have to ask ourselves is this: what is the right way to behave to honour our sport and to respect our opponents?”
“If, in fact, the guys are treated with a different measuring stick for the same transgressions, this needs to be thoroughly examined and must be fixed.
“But we cannot measure ourselves by what we think we should also be able to get away with. In fact, this is the sort of behaviour that nobody should be engaging in on the court.
“Williams was absolutely marvellous towards Osaka after the match. A true champion at her best. But during the match – well, enough said.”
Britain’s Jamie Murray rejected claims that men get preferential treatment from umpires on the tennis circuit, saying it was ‘a bit far-fetched’ to think otherwise.
“I think the umpire did what was within his rights,” he told BBC Sport ahead of Britain’s Davis Cup tie with Uzbekistan in Glasgow.
“Coaching is common, a lot of people are doing it, some people aren’t getting called for it. To get called in a Grand Slam final was perhaps a bit tight, but I think the reaction was pretty overboard.
“I’ve seen a lot of people get called for coaching before, and you might have a grumble and stuff, but you get on with it.”
Murray won the mixed doubles title with Bethanie Mattek-Sands at Flushing Meadows on Saturday, although it was a success quickly forgotten as Williams crumbled in pursuit of a record-equalling 24th Grand Slam title later that evening.
Serena isn’t getting much support from the men on the US Davis Cup team either, as Steve Johnson, Mike Bryan and Ryan Harrison tried to stay out of the debate since umpire Ramos was back at work, handling their best-of-five semi-final series against Croatia over the weekend.
“It’s been polarised and in some ways politicised,” US captain Jim Courier told The Associated Press on Thursday. “But we have no doubt that Carlos was just enforcing the rules as he sees them.”
“Look, I don’t want this to come out the wrong way,” Johnson said. “But he enforced rules that have been enforced on me over the years. I’ve never been called for coaching, but the racket abuse, the verbal abuse, that’s just part of the sport.
“I think a lot of it maybe got over-amplified because it was the finals of the US Open.”
Katrina Adams was overheard apologising to Ramos on the sidelines of the tie draw ceremony, while a USTA spokesman said the USTA CEO was not speaking to media and Ramos was not available for questions.
Reports that Ramos is likely to take a break from Williams matches at the Australian Open would amount to rewarding her poor behaviour, although it seems she has not officially requested that the official be removed from her matches.
Former professional umpire Richard Ings says Tennis Australia will try to avoid any controversy by keeping them apart.
“Say an umpire has a tough match with a player,” he told the Observer. “The player is angry, blames the umpire, says ‘you will never work a match again’. It is obvious that if the umpire does that player in the next match or next week that there will be a problem. So the umpire will simply take a break from umpiring that player.
There were high ratings for ESPN’s cable broadcasts of the US Open in the States, with the women’s final tied for the second-highest the network has ever got for the tournament.
The controversy-filled encounter between Osaka and Williams drew a 2.4 rating, tied for the 2015 men’s final and just below the 2.7 rating record for the 2015 all-Williams quarter-finals.
In all, the women’s final attracted 3,101,000 viewers, while the men’s final between Novak Djokovic and Juan Martin del Potro drew in 2,065,000 viewers.
Unless you are a serious tennis fan, you probably don’t know that exactly one player was expelled from the 2017 US Open: Fabio Fognini, for calling a chair umpire a ‘whore’ and worse in Italian during a losing match.
He also was fined $96,000 and threatened with banishment from Grand Slam events if he didn’t quit acting like a punk on the court.
Chastened and apologetic, Fognini returned to Flushing Meadows in 2018 as the No 14 seed, where he was upset in the third round with no histrionics. Evidently, he has learned to accept defeat.
So it is simply not true, as Williams asserted through tears after losing to the brilliant Osaka, also a woman of colour, that men are never punished for bad behaviour in professional tennis.
Serena’s latest melodrama was inexcusable, a shameful display of poor sportsmanship because she was being well beaten.
“You owe me an apology,” she ranted at Ramos. “I have never cheated in my life. I have a daughter and I stand for what’s right for her.
“How dare you insinuate that I was cheating?” she raged. “And you stole a point from me, you’re a thief, too.”
Williams is a 36-year-old tour veteran who is supposed to know the rules.
She is also a pampered tennis player, who travels the world with celebrity status, surrounded by flunkies, protected by money, and prone to drama as testified by the hour-long spectacle made out of her rantings.
Osaka accepted the US Open trophy with tears running down her face as the crowd shamefully booed her.
Serena owes her, them and us, a big apology, but she probably will now never make one.