By MELANIE WU
Women’s U.S. Open—a championship match chock full of pure sexism and spectator insolence.
The women’s singles final played by Naomi Osaka and Serena Williams ended with Osaka beating Williams in straight sets using her strategic ball placement and technique. In spite of this feat, Osaka’s outstanding skill was not the highlight of the match.
Rather, it is the controversy between Carlos Ramos, the umpire, and Serena Williams, Osaka’s opponent. Midway into the match, Ramos issued a violation warning on Williams claiming that she was receiving coaching during the game, which is highly illegal in Grand Slam tournaments. Williams fired back, disputing that she would rather lose than cheat to win. Shortly after, Ramos imposed a code violation on Williams for smashing her racket in frustration and she retorted, demanding an apology. On top of that, Ramos gave Williams yet another game penalty for verbal abuse. This is when Williams exposed Ramos’ sexism and demanded for referee Brian Earley to come onto court.
This is possibly one of the most memorable Grand Slam tournaments, for all the wrong reasons. Ramos crossed a line and lost control of the match, involving himself negatively by overusing game penalties. Despite Williams’ explosive actions, Ramos’ abuse of authority emphasizes a bigger picture of sexism and women’s inequality in the tennis world. Williams’ actions shine light on the epitome of a woman standing up for herself but still receiving the short end of the stick.
The absurd fine brought upon Williams for these insignificant infractions exemplifies sexist qualities so often displayed in society. She was charged a total of $17,000: $10,000 for verbal abuse- the largest fine ever charged to a Grand Slam player, $4,000 for a coaching violation, and $3,000 for racket abuse. Many have questioned the validity of the numerous charges pressed upon Williams. After all, if a male player was in the same situation as Williams, would the outcome have been the same?
Based on other antics in Grand Slam tournaments that have been executed by males, the answer is a clear no.
In fact, poor behavior from established male players like John McEnroe, Ilie Năstase, and Jimmy Connors are celebrated in the tennis world. For instance, McEnroe continued to star in many commercials even after yelling at umpires. Năstase, who first made a racist comment about Williams’ daughter and was then accused of sexual harassment by many female tennis players, was not professionally reprimanded until this year. Conners, who continually gives active commentary on this sport was only recently spotlighted for his bad behavior at past U.S. Opens. These are just a few of many examples where male tennis players have not been given official reprimand for their inappropriate actions.
As a matter of a fact, during the tournament when Williams explained herself to the umpire, she stated that men are not given penalties for actions far worse. Their miniscule punishments compared to Williams’ ludicrous fine are a prime example of the gender inequality that goes unnoticed in the tennis world. By standing up to Ramos and defending herself, Williams emphasized the misogyny that occurs in all areas of the workplace, using her penalty as an opportunity to speak up against the injustice.
Additionally, Billie Jean King, an advocate for women’s equality in sports, voiced her opinion on Twitter, supporting Williams in the controversy. “When a woman is emotional, she’s ‘hysterical’ and she’s penalized for it,’ ” King wrote. “When a man does the same, he’s ‘outspoken’ and there are no such repercussions. Thank you, Serena Williams, for calling out this double standard. More voices are needed to do the same.” King references the idea that if a man was in a similar situation, he would have been praised for being “outspoken.” And this is undoubtedly true. King ties Williams’ actions to gender inequality, using this incident to represent the sheer frequency of such unjust occurrences.
Not only is sexism apparent in the actions and punishments between both genders, but it is also clearly depicted through pay grades. Although both genders are compensated more generously in tennis than in other sports, the millions earned in prize money consistently match the general pay gap in our nation’s workforce. Women are continuously earning 80 cents for every dollar men earn. Last year, at the Western & Southern Open in Mason, Ohio, a competition just weeks before the U.S. Open, Roger Federer received $731,000 for defending his title, while Williams received $495,000 for defending hers. In this competition, the woman only earned 63 cents compared to the man’s earnings. This is just one of many competitions where the pay gap was overwhelmingly apparent.
However, according to Billie Jean King, the prize money is not the main issue. Instead, it is the message that these major tournament hosts send when they reward men a massive amount of prize money subjecting women to a mere fraction of the amount for the exact same achievements. This issue is especially brought to light after Williams’ retorts to Ramos and the referee.
Furthermore, the entire dilemma has ripped the focus away from the one who deserves it the most: Naomi Osaka. Now ranked seven for women’s singles after gracefully defeating Williams, Osaka became the first Japanese woman to win a Grand Slam title. However, her accomplishment is widely overlooked due to Ramos’ actions. Williams ultimately stole the show and took righteous attention away from Osaka’s flawless strokes and techniques.
The few who argue that Ramos’ coaching penalty stands on the grounds that Williams’ coach, Patrick Mouratoglou actually admitted to coaching in an interview at the end of the match. This justifies the fact that Ramos made a call based on what he saw with his own eyes. At the same time, Mouratoglou proceeded to say that 100% of coaches do the same in 100% of the matches and this hypocritical action needs to be stopped. Although Ramos genuinely saw Mouratoglou, this type of penalty is rarely issued because many umpires, including Ramos, let it slide. In addition, Ramos usually umpires for men matches where the same amount of coaching occurs, but during one of the rare times he umpires for a women’s singles match, he called a coaching penalty? Why is he suddenly putting his foot down and calling out Williams when many other male tennis players’ coaches make the same actions? The only explanation could be the matter of gender which Williams made quite clear as she demanded an apology from Ramos.
In spite of this, her heart was in the right place and she defended herself with reason and respect. Likewise, at the end of the match, Williams congratulated Osaka with a warm hug showing that despite the entire ordeal, she still holds respect for Osaka’s outstanding performance. Such compassionate actions prove that Williams is, without a doubt, a strong-willed player who will fight for what she believes in all while respecting her opponent’s successes. Overall, Williams remains a role model not only for aspiring tennis players but also all others who seek the courage to speak up for their beliefs in this heavily imbalanced world, both on the off the court.