Serena Williams Grand Slam defeat turns into gender equality debate

September 14, 2018

On Sept. 8, the 138th U.S. Open was filled with history for the books and dreams coming true with some drama on the side. At the age of 20, this was Naomi Osaka’s first major match of her career, and she faced off against her childhood idol, Serena Williams. She came into the tournament ranked No. 10. After winning in the semi-finals, when asked if she had any words for Serena, Osaka replied with, “I love you.”

Those who watched the match say Osaka played an amazing game with grace and power and didn’t show any nerves playing with her childhood idol. The match became one for the books when Osaka became the first Japanese player to win a major singles title in the history of the sport, but that historic victory may be outshined by the controversial code violations by the chair umpire, Carlos Ramos, against Williams, which cost her a point and a game.

The match started off with a strong victory for Osaka, winning the first set 6-2 over 33 minutes. She served out the set with a 93-mph serve down the center of the court, which was unreturnable. Shortly after, Williams was given a code violation in the first set for supposed coaching and a second code violation for smashing her racquet after a double fault.

Once the second violation was called, Williams contested it with Ramos. The match took a turn when Williams got a game penalty for “verbal abuse” towards Ramos. A huge uproar in the arena met the call, which Williams immediately contested. For those who are not familiar with code violations in tennis, after each violation the penalty increases in severity. The second violation was in response to Ramos being under the impression that Williams received coaching, which is against the rules. After a long exchange between Williams and Ramos, Williams was under the impression that Ramos agreed she did not receive coaching and did not violate any rules.

After the third violation, which resulted in a game penalty, Williams strongly contested that it was unwarranted. Williams told Ramos that he was putting into question her character by penalizing her for receiving coaching when she claims to have never received coaching during a match. Williams directly told Ramos, “I do not cheat to win. I would rather lose.” Later, she went on to call him a “thief” and said he “stole a point” from her, directly referring to the second code violation for the smashed racquet. Williams demanded to speak to the tournament referee, Brain Early, in hopes that a call would be reversed. She pleaded, “It’s not right, it’s not fair. For you to attack my character, something is wrong.”

Despite Williams’ efforts, there was no change to the call and Williams lost the game, 5-3. After the extended conversation on the violations by Williams, she could not come back from the deficit and Osaka came out on top, which was followed by a stunned and silent crowd.

When Osaka was asked about her opinion on the calls Ramos made against Williams, she stated, “The thing is, I don’t know what happened on the court. So for me, I’m always going to remember the Serena that I love. It doesn’t change anything for me. She was really nice to me, at the net and on the podium.” Serena later commented on Osaka’s win, “This is her moment … She played an amazing match. She deserved credit, she deserved to win. At the end of the day, that’s what it was.”

The match may not be remembered for the stunning tennis of both players but the controversy set off by Williams. The debate that has sparked the media since the match ended is questioning if Ramos discriminated against Williams by making calls that have historically not been called for men in previous matches, such as coaching violations or smashing rackets.

Williams’ coach, Patrick Mouratoglou, admits at the end of match interview that he, in fact, “was coaching, but believes [Williams] did not see him.” He also notes, “I was [coaching] like 100 percent of the coaches in 100 percent of the matches, so we have to stop this hypocritical thing,” he told ESPN.

Serena later says that she was shocked to hear that he was coaching because they have never discussed singles. Many think that Williams was correct that there is a notable double standard for women smashing their racquets, in contrast to men. ESPN commentator Stephen Smith says “Serena Williams was wrong.” He notes that just like you prepare for an opponent, you must prepare for the umpires, and Ramos has been known to call coaching violations and violations for breaking racquets, in both men’s and women’s matches.

While the news has focused on Williams, this is Osaka’s first major title and a dream come true.

Menu Title