In the wake of the backlash from the U.S. Open Women’s Finals, I say Serena Williams owes no-one an apology. In fact, it is tennis that should apologize to the Greatest Tennis Player of All Time.
Flashback to the Women’s Final, one that will go down as one of the most memorable matches for all the wrong reasons.
First, let me say congratulations to Naomi Osaka on becoming the first Japanese woman to win the U.S. Open title. Osaka played extraordinarily well during her two weeks in Flushing Meadows earning an opportunity to face her idol Serena Williams, and that, no doubt, should have been the story.
It was, that is until chair umpire Carlos Ramos decided to insert himself into the match. He must’ve thought the sold-out crowd, filled with celebrities and tennis fans, who were expecting to see a great match, came to watch him make controversial calls, and not the greatest player of all time versus the future of Women’s tennis play a historic match.
The beginning of the end came when Ramos called a coaching violation on Williams for receiving coaching. Her coach Patrick Mouratoglou did confess to his attempt to coaching Williams who contends that she did not see her coaches gesture from the other side of the court. She even went as far as to say to Ramos that she’d “rather lose than cheat.”
FACT: Serena Williams has never been known as a cheater. She is the owner of an Open-Era record 23 Grand Slams, 72 (and counting) WTA titles and four Olympic Gold Medals over her 20-plus years career, so why anyone would think she would start cheating now is absolutely absurd, and that is what the 36-year old pro took offense to.
Back to the match: As her frustrations mounted from her own slow start and now from what she perceived a being accused of cheating still undoubtedly playing in the back of her mind, Williams slammed her racket on the ground earning another violation (racket abuse, another rule I never understood. It’s their racket for heavens sake) which cost her a game point.
During the changeover, Williams continued her discussuions (and most likely disgust at the initial ruling of receiving coaching) with Ramos and her continued exchange included calling Ramos a “liar” and “thief” which led Ramos to awarding a game to Osaka at a critical time in the match.
This is where I take issue with the entire situation as I watched it unfold in Arthur Ashe Stadium. Ramos’ call for coaching violation should have never been made, period. Yes, it’s in the rule book, so are a lot of things that never get called. And no, it’s never called even though it is seemingly always done. Then Ramos allowed the situation to reel out of control and never tried to diffuse the situation by giving Williams an oft-used “soft warning” before slapping her with an entire game penalty.
Had that first call never been made, had the chair umpire kept himself out of the match, we may have been headed to a spectacular 3-set, winner take all match. Instead, we are left only to wonder, what if.
I commend Serena for her professionalism after the match, urging the crowd to not boo but instaed celebrate Osaka’s win. “Let give credit where credit is due,” she said to the raucous crowd. Even Osaka admitted to Williams being “nice to her” on the podium. Both women were in tears during the award ceremony for all the wrong reasons. Serena and Osaka deserved a better umpire and outcome. Thank you Carlos Ramos.
Would this have happened in a match featuring Roger or Nadal or Novak? I think not.
I’ve watched some of the most emotionally charged players play, John McEnroe, Jimmy Connors, Nick Kyrgios, and never have I seen such a poor display of officiating on such a grand stage. Many will say Ramos called the match “by the book,” sure, anyone can do that, but sometimes officiating is less about “the book” and more about using your head and understanding and diffusing situations with players as they arise.
Let’s recognize and applaud Serena Williams for what she has done in the past year (1) having almost returned to form in such a quick manner so soon after having a baby (Olympia was born September 1, 2017), (2) reaching the finals of both Wimbledon and the U.S. Open in 2018. And if not for a pectoral muscle injury at the French Open, who knows how far she may have gone.
Speaking of the French Open, in an unpecedented move, French Tennis Federation President Bernard Giudicelli said the French Open will institute a dress code to regulate players’ uniforms because, as he was quoted as saying “I think that sometimes we’ve gone too far.” And then he singled out Williams’ black cat-suit that she wore this year at Roland Garros.
The announcement was made months after the French Open and just days before the U.S. Open was set to begin, that in-itself was curious. Williams, to her credit, took it in stride and refused to prolong the conversation at her pre-U.S. Open press conferences.
Let’s put this in perspective, Williams wore the specially designed cat-suit at the French Open to help prevent blood clots that threatened her life after having her baby and over the course of her career. Did Mr. Giudicelli take that into consideration before announcing the ridiculous ban?
I’ll conclude with these facts…
Fact: Tennis needs Serena Williams.
Fact: Fans pay big money to watch the players compete, not umpires make calls. If you remember the umpires name after a match, as is the case of the U.S. Open Women’s Final, then something is wrong.
Serena Williams you owe no-one an apology and thank you for making Women’s tennis competitive and fun to watch. You are truly the Greatest of All Time!