Serena Was Wrong
I’m a huge tennis fan, as some of you already know. Tbh, I mostly follow men’s tennis, but I also keep up with the women’s game. I didn’t watch Serena’s match live, but I did catch most of it after the controversy.
Most of the people writing about the incident do NOT understand tennis, which is not only frustrating, but has also led to a lot of confusion.
The prevailing argument is that when male players act out with the chair umpire they never get docked a whole game; they get a warning. Hence: sexism.
The problem with that argument is that it portends that the violation leading to the game penalty occurred in a vacuum, when it did not. We’ll get back to this point shortly.
First off, nobody “stole” a game (or even a point) from Serena Williams. She (and her team) acted against the code of conduct/rules and were docked, accordingly:
- Her coach attempted to coach her during the match (a violation).
- Serena smashed her racquet (a violation).
These are not my opinions. They are actual facts.
The first action led to a violation she was responsible for (but wasn’t entirely in control of); the second violation was completely under her control.
It is true that the chair umpire, Ramos, didn’t have to give her a formal warning for the coaching violation; he could have chosen to warn her, informally. But once he found her team in violation, and it was completely in his right to do so, everyone who understands tennis, most of all Serena, knew what would happen if she committed another violation: a point deduction.
So when she broke her racquet later in the match, she did so in full awareness that it would end with her losing a point.
This detail needs to be fully appreciated. There was 0 doubt, for anyone who understands the game of tennis, what would happen after she smashed her tennis racquet: a point violation.
Because that’s just how tennis works.
(And, unfortunately, for Serena, for Federer, for every professional athlete… not liking a rule doesn’t make it go away.)
And, yet, not only did Serena still smash her racquet, but she then had the gall to try to pin the responsibility on the chair umpire instead.
And that’s what’s so appalling about her charge of Ramos “stealing” a point from her. He didn’t steal anything. Serena acted as if the first warning didn’t happen, and in her mind, therefore, the second violation should have only been a warning and not a point penalty.
Which is completely absurd. When Serena got the warning, she approached the chair umpire, told him that she doesn’t cheat and that her coach was probably just giving her a thumbs up (which wasn’t the case) and returned to playing. She was direct and emphatic, but she wasn’t acting as if this warning was a huge deal–yet.
Because of her subsequent actions, however, it would become a big deal.
Her charge of sexism was really misdirected anger–at herself. She didn’t make a huge deal about the coaching violation, calling Ramos a thief and a liar, UNTIL she had been broken by Osaka as she (Serena) was serving to consolidate her lead in the 2nd set.
That is, she was on her way to winning the 2nd set and tie-ing the match, and probably doing her Serena Wonder Woman thing and winning the Championship, when she faltered. And in that moment of disappointment, she MIS-PLACED her anger of failing on the tennis court, and instead of just admitting the better play of her opponent, she lay her failure on the chair umpire in a display of poor sportswomanship.
But what’s even more egregious: she did her best to get group consensus from the crowd and the media to deflect from her own bad behavior, by charging the chair umpire with sexism.
Again, it all comes back to her unwillingness to accept the call of the chair umpire on the initial violation.
Let me show you a similar example from a match vs. Stosur at the US Open in 2011. It’s not just an example of poor sportsmanship towards an opponent, not just an example of a player being incredibly offensive towards a chair umpire, but most of all, to me, reflective of a player who struggles to accept certain realities when she doesn’t agree with the call.
See it for yourself here.
(For those of you who don’t know tennis, you can’t yell or scream out during the middle of a point, which is what Serena did.)
I can only imagine that being a woman in sports, and on top of that a black woman in such a lily-white sport as tennis, is incredibly difficult; especially to dominate it as Serena has.
However, the fact that she has been through a lot does not–and can not–excuse her behavior on the court. I’ve seen too many commentators use this argument.
Both of the following are true:
She has encountered sexism and racism on and off the tennis court.
She acted poorly and deserved to be penalized in the US Open Final vs. Osaka.
For the sake of the integrity of the sport, however, the former does not (and can not!) excuse the latter. Sexism did not cause her to lose a game; Serena’s actions did.
The chair umpire, Ramos, is known for being a stickler. He has been tough on the game’s top players, including Nadal and Djokovic, having given them both code violations. Serena knew the umpire’s history of keeping strictly to the rules coming into the match. Every professional athlete takes into consideration all factors, especially a great champion like Serena.
Most players don’t get a game penalty because once they get the first warning, let alone a 2nd violation, they back down, knowing the cost of a subsequent violation. But not Serena. And it was her unwillingness to back down after two violations–not sexism–that primarily resulted in her game penalty.
(I say, primarily, because we can’t discount certain levels of prejudice in any human being; however, the point of this piece is that Serena Williams was in control of her destiny–and relinquished that control through excessive behavior, which caused her to lose a point and then a game.)
The question that remains is why? Why was Serena so upset by the initial violation that it, and her frustration at being down a set to Osaka, had her not be willing to just “let it go.”
Contrary to Serena’s claim, Ramos never insinuated that Serena was a “cheater.” He simply saw the coaching violation and issued the warning. The rest was her interpretation of the call. Hence, she demanded an apology from Ramos for calling her a cheater (which, as we said, he never did).
Another example of her living in unreality.
When the head head referees entered the court, Serena said, “You know my integrity.” It just shows that Serena had misunderstood the violation from the beginning. Her integrity was never being questioned, but she wasn’t able to see it any other way. As things got worse for her on the tennis court, her fixation on that unreality consumed her; and it, not sexism, is what led to her 3rd violation.
Let’s celebrate Serena as the great champion she is. The best women’s tennis player in the history of the game. But let’s also be willing to admit her failings, both as a tennis player and as a human being.
In this US Open Final, Serena was wrong.