Williams Wills Change


Julia Landman

Tennis isn’t equal between the genders, and there will be a time and place to address this. There is a pay gap; women who have won more titles than men still get paid less; women get penalized heavier than men, but this does not justify Serena Williams’s actions at the U.S. Open.

Early in Williams’s second set in the finals against Naomi Osaka, she received a warning for coaching when her coach motioned for her to move forward. Williams was not happy about this, and made it clear. In tennis, a player is responsible for their coaches actions, so even if she had not seen or acted on her coaches movements, it still counts as a broken rule. She was not penalized any points for it,because it was a first code violation she was given a warning; typically the players ignore it, and the coaches and players are careful to not break any more rules, because the next one will result in a penalty. It seemed like that’s where the action would end, but that proved to not be the case.

After losing her serve, Williams smashed her racket which was a clear violation of the rules, and she was given a point penalty. The penalty made sense; she had already been given a warning, and committed another infraction, but Williams still decided to argue the penalty. She went up to the umpire, Carlos Ramos, and insisted that she didn’t receive coaching, and didn’t deserve to be docked a point. After the match, her coach admitted to coaching her, so whether Williams knew she was being coached or not does not matter, as the player does not need to be aware that they are being coached for it to count as a penalty.

Ramos had to dock her a point. She clearly broke her racket, and was being coached; if he hadn’t then he wouldn’t have been doing his job. So while Serena was insisting that she did not cheat, he was explaining to her that there was little he could do. They were both just talking at each other. Williams then called Ramos a thief, a third code violation which resulted in the automatic loss of a full game.

Williams also has not had the best track record with the U.S. Open. in 2009, she lost her temper with a line-judge, and she was penalized a set. In 2011, she yelled “Come on!” after hitting a forehand that looked like it would help her get herself back on track in a match she had been losing, and was penalized a point. She then lost her temper with the umpire once again and called her “unattractive inside” and got another violation.

In the past, men’s penalization have been on a spectrum. John McEnroe committed three infractions of racket abuse and verbal abuse towards the umpire. He was ejected from the game, was suspended from competition for two months, and was fined $17,500. This was harsher than Williams’s punishment, but if you look at the 2016 men’s U.S. Open, Andy Murray kicked a tennis ball at the umpire’s head and suffered no penalization. It’s hard to guess how penalizations will be given because of all of the factors that go into it.

Osaka went on in the match to win; it was her first major title win, and Japan’s first major win ever. Instead of being greeted with cheers for the incredible feat she had just performed, she was booed; this reaction was completely ridiculous. I have never seen this in the U.S. Open or in any major tennis tournament, and it was not an appropriate way for the crowd to react. As she was receiving her award, Williams shut down the booing, a very sportsmanlike thing to do, and carried herself much better than she did during the match. Osaka thanked Williams for a good match. Osaka carried herself incredibly well both during and after the match, despite the discouraging circumstances around her win.

It’s very difficult to gage whether this would have happened if Williams had been a male athlete. If male athletes in tennis are treated with such a different amount of penalization for the same transgressions that breaking a racket on the court is not viewed as a penalty, that should be corrected.

My feelings around what happened at the U.S. Open finals is that no one should break their racket on the court. It’s inappropriate. I would feel this way regardless of whether Williams was a man or a woman. However, it’s important to remember that Serena Williams is a role model for so many; a successful African-American working mother, she is looked up to by many. But she committed three infractions, and was penalized as such, so what I would have seen as the role model thing to do, would have been for her to accept the fact that she did break the rules, and deal with the consequences that followed.

There will be a time and a place to confront inequality in tennis, but Serena Williams’s way of handling it was not timely, and the message she may have been trying to project did not come across.