Serena Williams alleged that she was a victim of sexism after a row with umpire Carlos Ramos in the recent US Open final.
The headlines were set to read well for Williams as she was bidding to win her record-equalling 24th Grand Slam title, yet it was her competitor, Naomi Osaka, who woke up to the celebratory reports the following morning as she became Japan’s first ever Grand Slam winner.
Yet whilst some headlines were celebrating Osaka’s amazing feat, most instead picked up on Williams’ row with the umpire over a caution of coaching during the match and the subsequent allegations of sexism that she raised in the aftermath of the incident.
Williams has said of the ruling that “if you’re a female you should be able to do, even half, of what a guy can do.” This quote refers to her belief that men in tennis and sport in general are not subject to such scrutiny, meaning that she has been unfairly treated due to her being a woman.
Patrick Mouratoglu, the coach of Serena Williams, has admitted to coaching his player during the game, yet claims that she did not look at him to receive coaching at any time. This has not stopped Williams from calling the umpire a “thief” and a “liar.”
The controversy of this incident includes the issue of coaching in tennis, which many players, including Williams, believe should be allowed in all competitions. A major factor that cannot be ignored, however, is institutional sexism within sport.
Famous ex-world number 1 tennis player and gender rights activist Billie Jean King has taken to Twitter to support Serena Williams. Whilst initially admitting that she “went too far,” she went on to thank Williams for “calling out this double standard” and saying that “more voices need to do the same.”
There are, however, a number of figures who do not agree with the allegations of sexism. US Open mixed doubles champion, Jamie Murray, has backed umpire Ramos, suggesting that whilst the decision within the context of it being a major final was “tight”, the reaction “was pretty overboard” and that “I’ve seen a lot of people get called for coaching before.”
American tennis player Steve Johnson also leapt to the defence of Ramos, saying that “he enforced rules that have been enforced on me over the years.” Whilst he knows that he has never been called out for coaching, he points out that racquet abuse and verbal abuse, the two other rule breaches Williams was penalised for, are commonly seen in tennis.
One of the most prevalent arguments made by tennis players and pundits in the wake of this controversy is that the issue has been exaggerated due to the fact that it came in a major tennis final.
Williams’ anger may well have been heightened by the fact that she was so close to matching Margaret Court’s record of 24 Grand Slam singles wins and the fact that it was a major final.
As Johnson suggests, if the call had been made on a less high-profile player in a less significant match, then there would likely not be such uproar and media attention to Williams’ actions and the possibility of sexism within the sport.
The umpire ultimately used the powers at his disposal to rule on what he believed to be true. Whilst there is uncertainty over the call of coaching, the other two sanctions she received are indisputable.
Yet despite this, the fact that the sanction for coaching is not often given out by umpires reiterates the importance of this debate. Whether intended or unintended, Williams has the right to argue that she was discriminated against.
Ramos and other umpires should become more consistent with their rulings, in both men’s and women’s matches, if this controversy is to be avoided in future.
Image: James Boyes via Flickr