The double standard in tennis is real


Ian Mark Gampon

Serena Williams playing tennis.

Sophia Artley, Editor

The U.S. Open Championships has received much more press coverage than in years past, and for one reason: a woman threw a “tantrum”.

It all started when the umpire Carlos Ramos issued a a game penalty for what he said was coaching violation. Williams disputed the violation calling out the double standards in discipline for men and women in tennis. But it was not until she called him a “thief” that Ramos issued a third code violation resulting in a game penalty where a point was taken away. Williams trailed 5-3 after the penalty and eventually lost the match.

In reality, Ramos overstepped his role as an umpire; he let his own emotions determine the results. Not only did this umpire ruin Naomi Osaka’s first Grand Slam title, but he also ruined one of William’s last chances to go down in history as one of the greatest athletes of all time – all because of one woman’s tone of voice. Men have cursed and sworn, screamed at the top of their lungs, bashed their rackets to pieces, only to receive few to zero penalties. No man has ever received such a harsh penalty as did Williams during the U.S. Open final.

Ramos’ warning issued over coaching was a rare case. Patrick Mouratoglou’s (William’s coach) simple hand signal pales in comparison to what most players usually get away with; in fact, coaching players during matches is usually completely overlooked. That was one offense, the second was when Williams busted her racket over a loss. Since breaking equipment is a violation, it was a second offense. In the game of tennis, two offenses can be committed before a penalty must be issued, and so William’s second offense resulted in a penalty.

As Sally Jenkins wrote, “at that moment, it was up to Ramos to de-escalate the situation”, but he did not. In a moment of rage, Williams yelled out “You stole a point from me. You’re a thief.” At this point Ramos should have just ignored it, like so many other umpires do. Williams’’ words were the result of emotion, it was controlled. Her words were the result of the adrenaline high she was on, and Ramos should have ignored it and continued on to the next match. Williams would have calmed down, and played her match, like so many players – male players specifically – have done before. Ramos should have done his job correctly, and let the players play.

Instead, William’s words cost her the game, and the possible record-equalling 24th grand slam title.

At the 2017 French Open, Ramos encountered an arguably worse situation then what happened with Williams. When Ramos gave Rafael Nadal a penalty over a time delay, Nadal responded said he would make sure that Ramos would “never [referee] one of his matches ever again.”

So where was Ramos’ penalty there? There was none.

The world of tennis has seen players such as John McEnroe, Ilie Nastase, Jimmy Connors, and so many more “bad boys” be cheered and celebrated for behavior much worse than Willams’ at the U.S. Open. In fact, many of these players’ fame was based on their fiery attitudes towards umpires. But when a woman points a finger at Ramos, he gives her a violation for verbal abuse resulting in a whole game penalty, docking a point from Williams’ score.

Former men’s tennis star James Blake went to twitter to share his outrage, and own story. “I will admit I have said worse and not gotten penalized. And I’ve also been given a ‘soft warning’ by the ump where they tell you to knock it off or I will give you a violation. He should have at least given her that courtesy.” 

Patrick McEnroe, another former tennis star, said on Good Morning America, “It has to be said that she has a point when it comes to gender bias”.  

Other stars including tennis legend Billie Jean King, Janelle Monáe, Olympic skier Lindsey Vonn, and much more came to Williams’ defense, applauding her actions.

So the simple question can be answered: was there a double standard? Yes.

But in the end, if you take one thing away from this historical U.S. Open, let it be the humbling moment that Naomi Osaka received the U.S. Open trophy. As the crowd booed Osaka, taking rage directed towards Ramos out on Osaka, tears ran down both women’s faces. Williams held herself with dignity and grace, and hugged her opponent.

Addressing the crowd, Williams ordered them to stop booing. “I know you guys were here rooting, and I was rooting, too, but let’s make this the best moment we can,” Williams said. “We’ll get through it. Let’s not boo anymore”.

We will never know if Osaka rightfully won the U.S. Open, or if Williams could have won another Grand Slam title. But something bigger has been forced into the limelight; the harsh double standards of tennis. What happens after this is up to them, but Williams has unleashed a new era in tennis, hopefully one that addresses these issues so many demand to be addressed.