At the U.S. Open Women’s Single Championship, we saw the double standard that women in professional tennis are often forced to confront.
Twenty-year-old Naomi Osaka of Japan defeated American tennis star, Serena Williams, in straight sets with the help of three penalties, the last of which put her up five games to three against the 23-time Grand Slam champion. The controversy began at the beginning of the second set when Williams took issue with a rare coaching violation penalty. She was awarded the penalty by umpire, Carlos Ramos, after her coach, Patrick Mouratoglou, supposedly gave her a thumbs up from the audience.
“If he gives me a thumbs up, he’s telling me to come on,” said Williams to Ramos. “I know you don’t know that and I know why you may have thought that was coaching but I don’t cheat to win, I rather lose.”
Williams’s second outburst came after she smashed her racquet in anger, following a missed routine shot. She received a racquet abuse violation as a result, and was charged a point for it being her second penalty of the match. But since Williams disputed her first penalty, she argued that the point awarded to Osaka was unfair.
“I didn’t get coaching, how can you say that…You owe me an apology. I have never cheated in my life.” she yelled at Ramos, as she started to break into tears. “I have a daughter and I stand for what’s right for her, and I have never cheated.”
Williams’s most inflammatory remark came later in the set after Osaka broke her to take the lead four games to three. Still angry about her previous penalties, during a break between games, she called Ramos a “thief.”
Ramos calmly gave Williams a game point penalty, making it five games to three for Osaka and putting her one game away from becoming the 2018 U.S. Open Women’s Singles Champion. Williams was enraged. She called in match referees for an appeal, but was unsuccessful.
This isn’t the first time Serena Williams has had issues with U.S. Open officials. At the 2009 tournament, she famously shouted profanities at a linesman, threatening to shove a ball down his throat. The fact of the matter is that she is just another aggressive athlete in a sport that is famous for it: see John McEnroe. Tennis is a highly individual sport and there is a long list of athletes that have gone on tirades and smashed racquets, but not all of these athletes are treated the same way.
In this year’s U.S. Open alone, there have been a couple incidents of unfair treatment towards women. French tennis player, Alize Cornet, was penalized for changing her top during a match, something that men are allowed to do. Male tennis player, Nick Kyrgrios, wasn’t penalized after trying to tank his match against Pierre Hugues Herbert. Instead, he was given a pep talk and supported by an official.
Earlier in the year, after the French Open, Williams was called out by French Tennis Federation president, Bernard Giudicelli, for wearing a black skin-tight catsuit. The catsuit was designed to prevent blood clots, something Williams was having problems with after the birth of her child last September. “I think that sometimes we’ve gone too far…It will no longer be accepted,” said Giudicelli. “One must respect the game and the place.”
As these examples indicate, female tennis players are held to a different standard. They are expected to act differently, to be less aggressive and more contained.
Tennis legend Billie Jean King said on Twitter after Saturday’s final, “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.”
After the match, in what was truly a heartbreaking moment, both athletes stood on the podium in tears. Williams was upset about Ramos’s calls and the way the game panned out, and Osaka was crying because the audience booed through the whole ceremony. It was the 20-year-old’s first Grand Slam championship, won against her childhood idol. Williams comforted Osaka and tried to stop the crowd from booing, but the damage was done. One can only hope that this case is remembered as an example of the unfair treatment that women, not only in tennis, but in sports and society, face at large.