Twenty-year-old Naomi Osaka bested Serena Williams to win the U.S. Open on Saturday, making her the first Japan-born woman to win a Grand Slam final.
But that landmark moment is not what everyone is talking about today, thanks to a series of penalties that highlight, once again, the sexism plaguing the sport.
It all started when Carlos Ramos, the chair umpire, issued Williams a code violation for receiving illegal coaching from the sidelines. (Williams’s coach, Patrick Mouratoglou, said later that he had been giving her advice, but did not think she had seen him.)
Williams approached Ramos after the call. “I understand why you may have thought that was coaching, but I’m telling you it’s not,” she said. “I don’t cheat to win. I’d rather lose. I’m just letting you know.”
Later, Williams received another violation for smashing her racket after missing a shot, which meant she was also issued a one-point deduction.
During the next changeover (when the players switch serving sides), a frustrated Williams approached Ramos a second time. “You need to make an announcement that I didn’t get coaching,” she said. “You owe me an apology. I have never cheated in my life.”
She also called Ramos a “thief,” asserting that he stole the point from her. Ramos then penalized Williams further, citing “verbal abuse.” She was then forced to forfeit an entire game. (In tennis, players must win six games to win a set.)
The incident cast an uncomfortable shadow over Osaka’s eventual win. As Osaka stood on the winner’s podium after the match, crowd members booed. (Their ire was most likely directed at U.S. Open officials, but Osaka was still in tears.)
As seems to be the norm for tennis lately, the controversies here are numerous. When Williams approached Ramos the second time, for instance, she did not seem to be aware of her second violation, which means she was also not aware that she was one violation away from forfeiting a game. There’s also the bizarre “abuse” citation, which Ramos doled out because Williams called him a “thief” — certainly far from the worst thing an athlete has called an official during an event.
“You know how many other men do things — they do much worse than that. This is not fair,” Williams told Women’s Tennis Association supervisor Donna Kelso. “There’s a lot of men out here that have said a lot of things and because they are men [the same punishment] does not happen to them.”
(2/2) When a woman is emotional, she’s “hysterical” and she’s penalized for it. When a man does the same, he’s “outspoken” & and there are no repercussions. Thank you, @serenawilliams, for calling out this double standard. More voices are needed to do the same.
— Billie Jean King (@BillieJeanKing) September 9, 2018
At the end of the day, the most egregious crime here is that the match won’t be remembered as a well-deserved victory for Osaka, or as a compelling athletic battle between two talented women of color. Instead, it will exist in the context of tennis’s sexism problem. Osaka will join the group of skilled players — Serena Williams, Alizé Cornet, countless others — who were robbed of their moments because of a power structure that refuses to treat them fairly.
Williams addressed Osaka’s bittersweet win in her post-match presser. “I felt bad, because I’m crying, and she’s crying, and she just won, and I’m not sure if they were happy tears or sad tears because of the moment,” she explained. “I was like, ‘Wow, this is not how I felt when I won my first Grand Slam.’ I definitely don’t want her to feel like that.”
“I’m here to fight for women’s rights and women’s equality,” she said later. “The fact that I have to go through this is an example. Maybe it didn’t work out for me, but it’s going to work out for the next person.”