On September 8th, Serena Williams faced Naomi Osaka in the US Open Final match when it quickly spun out of her control. Williams became engaged in a heated dispute with the match umpire Carlos Ramos after she was handed a series of code violations that made her lose points at a critical time in the match.
Ramos first gave Williams a violation for making eye contact with her coach who was in the stands watching, which is illegal as players cannot receive coaching during their matches. Ramos then gave her a second violation that resulted in the loss of a point for her smashing her racket on the ground in frustration. For the last straw, she finally received a game penalty for verbal abuse after she confronted the umpire, claiming that he stole a point from her and that he was a “thief.”
In the aftermath of the controversy, the International Tennis Federation defended Ramos and said he was within reason for handing out the rule violations. Williams unfortunately ended up losing the match. In her news conference afterwards, she claimed that she did not believe that what she said was bad in comparison to what male players say to umpires. As the dispute started trending on every website and social media, former players also backed her up on this.
Famous tennis player John McEnroe admitted that in his playing days he said much worse without getting penalized for it. Billie Jean King, a tennis legend and equal rights advocate, tweeted, “When a woman is emotional, she’s “hysterical” and she’s penalized for it. When a man does the same, he’s “outspoken” & there are no repercussions. Thank you, Serena Williams, for calling out this double standard. More voices are needed to do the same.”
If there is to be a stop to this type of sexism in the tennis world, Serena is the best to lead and advocate for this change. The greatest female tennis player ever, and the face of the tennis world, her entire career she has dealt with people loving to hate her not only because she is a female, but also because she is a minority. People don’t just dislike her, they love to hate her. This passion is not over a specific reason. They don’t hate her because of the way she acts or who she is. It is purely because they don’t want to like her and want to see her fail.
There is a glaring double standard in the way that men and women are treated in the sports world, but also in tennis specifically. What women are allowed to say, what they are allowed to wear, and how they should go about being angry or frustrated is all held to a different standard than men.
For example, Serena received backlash from the president of the French Tennis Federation Bernard Giudicelli in August after she wore an all-black catsuit in one of her French Open matches. He cited that it was disrespectful to the game. Williams countered by saying that the suit was not just for aesthetic reasons, but that it in fact helped her from developing blood clots during the match, something she has struggled with since becoming a mom last year. Men have always worn colorful outfits during their matches and suffered no backlash from it. Why can’t women do the same? Isn’t this entertainment after all?
Beyond that, however, inside women’s tennis, there are also different standards for how African American women are allowed to conduct themselves on the court. Serena and her sister Venus always have to deal with things differently compared to other female players in the specific outfits they wear, the way they style their hair, and how well-spoken they are in off-court interviews.
Not judged for their tennis skills on the court, they have to play opponents while people are in the stands wanting to see them not succeed. The mental strength it must take to actually stay strong through that and stay focused on their tennis goals and not be affected from other people cannot be understated.
The tennis world needs to make a change. While such a big event like this made us take a hard look at the sexism that is in the sport, we need to realize that problems like these have been happening for a while. Only when we acknowledge the misogyny around us can we begin to make steps to fix it.