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Controversy in US Open sparks sexism dispute

A dramatic night in New York leaves the tennis world thinking about sexist acts in the game.


by Aedan Brennan

image courtesy of mirsasha via Flickr


23-time Grand Slam champion Serena Williams recently lost the US Open Final to the immensely talented 20-year-old Ozaka, but the encounter was steeped in controversy. Throughout the match, Naomi Ozaka dominated proceedings, winning the first set 6,2 then continued this form to produce a 6,4-set victory. Sadly, however, this brilliant display was not the talking point of the match as Serena Williams’ outbursts towards the end of the game was the sole focus of this emotionally filled and memorable final. Williams first saw red as her coach Mouratoglou waved his hand during the game, which was deemed by umpire Carlos Ramos as a coaching violation. According to the International Tennis Federation, “coaching is considered to be communication advice or instruction of any kind or by any means”, and any “discreet signals”, including hand signals, is seen as cheating. Normally on court, coaching is permitted in the women’s game, but this rule is exempted in the Grand Slam tournaments. Ramos’ decision, although harsh, can therefore be seen as correct. However, Williams did not agree, as she stated “I don’t cheat to win… I’d rather lose”. 


This was not the end for what turned out to be a miserable evening for Williams because, soon after, the notoriously harsh Ramos gave Williams a point penalty for racket abuse, which is often seen in the men’s game. For this reason, as well as the somewhat “decisive” and harsh penalties awarded to her, Serena snapped, calling Ramos a “liar” and a “thief”. By abusing the umpire in this way, although many deem it as reasonable, Ramos had no choice but to award Serena with a game penalty, ending any hopes of a comeback shout. 


Although Williams was outclassed by Ozaka, the game may always be remembered for the umpiring decisions, as boos rang out from the court as the winner’s ceremony began to get underway. Williams still managed to keep her highly credible sporting etiquette by trying to silence the overzealous crowd, but Ozaka may never be able to remember such a victory with complete fondness. However, the controversary was far from over. Soon after the final, Williams made a statement suggesting that “sexism played a part in the match”, and many others agreed with her. For instance, the Women’s Tennis Association backed such a suggestion when they stated only a day later that there should be “no difference in the standards of tolerance provided to the emotions expressed by men vs. women”. The WTA then went on, stating that they “do not believe this was done last night”. 


Such a double standard is a highly debated topic amongst the sport. Billie Jean King, a 12-time Grand Slam winning former tennis player, was quick to heap praise upon Serena for bringing this to the limelight, as she tweeted “when a woman is emotional, she’s hysterical and she’s penalised for it. When a man does the same, he’s outspoken”. King was also joined by notable professionals such as Victoria Azarenka, as well as presenter Christine Brennan in their support for Williams. Brennan went as far as to say, “men could get away with it (high tempered emotions) and women could not”. Such an issue is very relevant in the present day and, with the sport producing figures like John McEnroe who is noted for his feuds with umpires, one can see why many professionals and sports fans have sided with Serena. 


Yet, on the other hand, notable figures such as Richard Ings suggested that “Carlos Ramos showed courage and capability” and did not put a foot wrong in the whole match. Ramos may not have made an “incorrect” decision, but male players such as Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic have also commented on his harsh nature. But can the real issue be the treatment of the umpire? If such a problem was treated equally in both the men’s and women’s disciplines, then such a “double standard” may not arise. But in the words of Serena’s coach: “the star of the show has been once again the chair umpire”, and, with such sexist issues arising, controversary is hampering the sport.

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