In the wake of the controversy that erupted during the U.S. Open women’s final Saturday, when Serena Williams was given a game penalty by chair umpire Carlos Ramos shortly before losing to Naomi Osaka, some of tennis’s biggest names, including Billie Jean King, Chris Evert and Novak Djokovic, have faulted Ramos for altering the course of the match by coming down so hard on Williams.
However, two other influential figures in the sport, Martina Navratilova and Mary Carillo, opined Monday that the fault lay more with Williams. Navratilova went so far as to write an editorial for the New York Times in which she claimed that, in complaining post-match that Ramos would not have reacted the same way to an argumentative male player, Williams was “missing the point” and would have been better served conducting herself with “respect for the sport we love so dearly.”
“I don’t believe it’s a good idea to apply a standard of ‘If men can get away with it, women should be able to, too,’ ” Navratilova said of Williams in her editorial. “Rather, I think the question we have to ask ourselves is this: What is the right way to behave to honor our sport and to respect our opponents?”
Carillo, speaking on MSNBC, went further, saying that Williams occasionally “acts like a bully.” She suggested that, with a chance to tie Margaret Court’s record of 24 Grand Slam singles titles at stake, “the pressure got to” Williams, who should have understood that the “rules” of tennis dictated her punishment.
Williams “ended up poisoning the atmosphere” for Osaka, who could scarcely celebrate her first Grand Slam title, Carillo claimed.
In the second set of a match Williams would lose, 6-2, 6-4, Ramos first gave her a warning for getting help from her coach, Patrick Mouratoglou, which raised her ire, then later docked her a point for smashing her racket in frustration at losing a game. Williams went on to berate the umpire for being a “thief” and falsely accusing her of cheating, leading to a game penalty that increased her deficit from 4-3 to 5-3.
After boos rained down from the crowd at Arthur Ashe Stadium in Queens, creating an awkward an emotional trophy ceremony, Williams told reporters, “I can’t sit here and say I wouldn’t say he’s a thief, because I thought he took a game from me.”
“I’ve seen other men call other umpires several things,” she continued. “I’m here fighting for women’s rights and for women’s equality and for all kinds of stuff. 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.’ For me it blows my mind, but I’m going to continue to fight for women.”
While Williams was fined $17,000 by the U.S. Tennis Association for her behavior, she also received a statement of support from the head of the National Organization for Women, who called Ramos’s decision to issue the game penalty “a blatantly racist and sexist move,” adding, “This would not have happened if Serena Williams was a man.”
King, a 12-time Grand Slam winner known for her activism for women’s rights, wrote in a guest column for The Washington Post that Ramos was guilty of “an abuse of power.” Saying the umpire “crossed the line” by having “involved himself in the end result,” King claimed that Ramos “chose to give Williams very little latitude in a match where the stakes were highest.”
“Did Ramos treat Williams differently than male players have been treated? I think he did,” King wrote.
Evert and Djokovic agreed that Ramos was too heavy-handed, with the former saying on Twitter that the umpire “should have told or warned [Williams] about the verbal abuse/rule before he enforced it.” After winning the men’s final Sunday, Djokovic told the media that Ramos “should not have pushed Serena to the limit” and “did change the course of the match.”
Navratilova agreed with King and Evert that players receiving some form of coaching from the stands is commonplace and should be allowed. However, she claimed that Williams was misguided in objecting to being characterized as a cheater by Ramos, because the warning stemmed from hand gestures made by Mouratoglou — who subsequently admitted he was doing some coaching — and it was irrelevant whether Williams saw them or gained any benefit.
“It’s difficult to know, and debatable, whether Ms. Williams could have gotten away with calling the umpire a thief if she were a male player. But to focus on that, I think, is missing the point,” Navratilova, an 18-time Grand Slam winner, wrote. “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 behavior that no one should be engaging in on the court.”
Carillo, a former professional player who has gone on to a successful career as a sportscaster, defended Ramos’s reputation, saying he “has been doing big matches for decades” and is “very, very respected” in the tennis community. Noting that she had called the women’s final for the Tennis Channel with former U.S. Open winner and world No. 1 Lindsay Davenport, she said that, after Williams earned a point penalty for smashing her racket, Davenport told their audience that the next infraction would cost Williams a game.
“If you follow tennis at all, you know those rules. They are inviolate,” Carillo said.
Of Williams, Carillo said, “At her very best — and she is very often at her very best — I respect and admire Serena beyond measure. She is so powerful, she’s an important voice, she’s a ferocious competitor.
“But at her very worst, as she was on this night, she acts like a bully.”
Calling King her “hero,” a “mentor” and a “great friend,” Carillo claimed, “A lot of these people that are weighing in and saying double standard, I’m saying, you know what? This is not the hill you want to die on.”
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