Sexism in Women’s Tennis?

Recent controversies over rules enforcement have some crying Foul!

Serena Williams, almost certainly the best woman tennis player of all time, had another meltdown yesterday. It may have cost her a record-setting 24th Grand Slam title.

ESPN News Services describes it this way:

Serena Williams was penalized a game for calling the chair umpire a thief during an extended argument as the US Open women’s final descended into chaos, with fans booing and play delayed before Naomi Osaka wrapped up a 6-2, 6-4 victory for her first Grand Slam title.

The biggest issue for Williams on the scoreboard Saturday was that she was outplayed by a younger version of herself in Osaka, a 20-year-old who is the first player from Japan to win a major singles tennis title and idolizes the 36-year-old American.

During the trophy ceremony in Arthur Ashe Stadium, thousands of fans jeered repeatedly, and both Osaka, the champion, and Williams, the runner-up in her bid for a record-tying 24th Grand Slam trophy, cried.

Williams put an arm around Osaka’s shoulder and told the crowd: “I know you guys were here rooting, and I was rooting, too, but let’s make this the best moment we can. … We’re going to get through this, and let’s be positive. So congratulations, Naomi. No more booing.”

[…]

This was Williams’ third high-profile conflict with an official at Flushing Meadows, following her tirade after a foot fault in the 2009 semifinals against Kim Clijsters and a dispute over a hindrance call in the 2011 final against Sam Stosur.

What the 2018 final will forever be remembered for is the way Williams clashed with chair umpire Carlos Ramos, demanding an apology after he initially issued a warning in the second set’s second game for a code violation for receiving coaching, which is not allowed during Grand Slam matches.

The WTA released a statement after the match, urging celebration of both players while saying, “There are matters that need to be looked into.”

The US Open later issued a statement saying that Ramos’ decision was “final and not reviewable by the Tournament Referee or the Grand Slam Supervisor who were called to the court at that time.”

Williams objected right away, saying she would “rather lose” than cheat. After the match, in an interview with ESPN, Williams’ coach, Patrick Mouratoglou, acknowledged that he had tried to signal Williams but said he didn’t think she had seen him. He added that he thinks every player gets coaching during matches.

“Well, I mean, I’m honest, I was coaching. I mean, I don’t think she looked at me, so that’s why she didn’t even think I was. I was like 100 percent of the coaches on 100 percent of the matches, so we have to stop this hypocrite thing,” Mouratoglou said. “Sascha [Bajin, Osaka’s coach,] was coaching every point, too. This chair umpire was the chair umpire of most of the finals of Rafa [Nadal], and Toni’s coaching every single point, and they never gave a warning. I don’t really get it. It’s strange.”

Mouratoglou added that he had never been called for a coaching violation: “Not once in my life, and you can check the records, you’ll see.”

Briefly, Williams appeared to be working her way back into the match, breaking Osaka for the only time to go up 3-1 in the second set. But Williams played a poor game right after that to get broken immediately, and she smashed her racket on the court, destroying it. That drew a second code violation, automatically costing Williams a point. When she realized that the next game had started with Osaka ahead 15-love, Williams told Ramos he should have retracted the initial warning for coaching.

“I have never cheated in my life!” Williams said. “You owe me an apology.”She resumed arguing with Ramos later, saying, “You stole a point from me. You’re a thief, too.”

He responded by issuing a third code violation, which results in a lost game. That made it 5-3 for Osaka.

Ramos called both players over to explain his ruling, and Williams began laughing, saying: “Are you kidding me?” She asked to speak to tournament referee Brian Earley, who walked onto the court along with a Grand Slam supervisor. Williams told them the whole episode “is not fair” and said, “This has happened to me too many times.”

“To lose a game for saying that is not fair,” Williams said. “There’s a lot of men out here that have said a lot of things, and because they are men, that doesn’t happen.”

Soon thereafter, the match was over.

On its face, there’s no problem here. Williams was receiving coaching, in violation of the rules, and was penalized the exact amount specified by the rules. Williams subsequently committed an equipment abuse, in violation of the rules, and was penalized the exact amount specified by the rules. Williams then immediately verbally abused the umpire, questioning his integrity,  in violation of the rules, and was penalized the exact amount specified by the rules. She was frustrated that she was being outplayed by a younger, fitter opponent. She was frustrated by the call. She, not by any means for the first time, lost control of her emotions in a critical match. And it cost her.

But Williams thinks something else is going on. That she’s being held to different standards than male players of her stature. And she may be right.

Veteran sportswriter Sally Jenkins thinks so:

Chair umpire Carlos Ramos managed to rob not one but two players in the women’s U.S. Open final. Nobody has ever seen anything like it: An umpire so wrecked a big occasion that both players, Naomi Osaka and Serena Williams alike, wound up distraught with tears streaming down their faces during the trophy presentation and an incensed crowd screamed boos at the court. Ramos took what began as a minor infraction and turned it into one of the nastiest and most emotional controversies in the history of tennis, all because he couldn’t take a woman speaking sharply to him.

Williams abused her racket, but Ramos did something far uglier: He abused his authority. Champions get heated — it’s their nature to burn. All good umpires in every sport understand that the heart of their job is to help temper the moment, to turn the dial down, not up, and to be quiet stewards of the event rather than to let their own temper play a role in determining the outcome. Instead, Ramos made himself the chief player in the women’s final. He marred Osaka’s first Grand Slam title and one of Williams’s last bids for all-time greatness. Over what? A tone of voice. Male players have sworn and cursed at the top of their lungs, hurled and blasted their equipment into shards, and never been penalized as Williams was in the second set of the U.S. Open final.

The role of officials varies from sport to sport. There’s arguably none where they play a bigger role than in tennis, where they rule on every single point.

In football and basketball, the two sports to which I pay by far the most attention, there is a tradition of “swallowing the whistle” in key moments, especially in the most meaningful games. But that tradition is only sporadically adhered to and there are plenty of instances fans can point to where bad calls by officials decided playoff games, even championship games.

In baseball, home plate umpires notoriously toss not only players but managers who dare question their authority. The tradition of de-escalation that Jenkins refers to simply doesn’t exist in America’s erstwhile pastime.

I haven’t been an avid tennis fan in a long time, so have caught only bits and pieces of games and a lot of highlights from the last two decades or so of the game. One can’t imagine a Roger Federer acting the way Williams does all too often. But there have been top male players, including John McEnroe, the favorite of my youth, who routinely berated officials when frustrated. And I don’t recall their being penalized in a similar fashion. (McEnroe was repeatedly fined and got to the point where he risked being disinvited from future Wimbledon tournaments. But I don’t recall his ever being penalized a game.)

“I just feel like the fact that I have to go through this is just an example for the next person that has emotions and that want to express themselves and wants to be a strong woman,” she said afterward.

I’m not sympathetic to that argument. Williams is strong in pretty much every sense of the word. But it’s not “strong” to melt down in stressful situations.

It was pure pettiness from Ramos that started the ugly cascade in the first place, when he issued a warning over “coaching,” as if a signal from Patrick Mouratoglou in the grandstand has ever been the difference in a Serena Williams match. It was a technicality that could be called on any player in any match on any occasion and ludicrous in view of the power-on-power match that was taking place on the court between Williams and the 20-year-old Osaka. It was one more added stressor for Williams, still trying to come back from her maternity leave and fighting to regain her fitness and resume her pursuit of Margaret Court’s record of 24 Grand Slam singles titles. “I don’t cheat,” she told Ramos hotly.

While I’m not particularly sympathetic to “everyone breaks the rule” argument, the implicit corollary—that the rule is only enforced against women, against Williams in particular, or out of vindictiveness is a legitimate complaint. That strikes me as an empirical question subject to falsification. Given that he was in the chair for the finals of a Grand Slam, though, one presumes Ramos is a highly-respected umpire. Indeed, as the previously-cited ESPN News story reports, “Ramos chaired the women’s singles finals at the French Open in 2005 and at Wimbledon in 2018. He has chaired seven men’s singles finals across all four Grand Slams and the men’s singles final at the 2012 London Olympics.” That’s a remarkable resume. He deserves to have the presumption of integrity absent demonstration otherwise.

When Williams, still seething, busted her racket over losing a crucial game, Ramos docked her a point. Breaking equipment is a violation, and because Ramos already had hit her with the coaching violation, it was a second offense and so ratcheted up the penalty.

Correct. Again, I mostly blame Williams. I don’t see how Ramos turns a blind eye to something that egregious happening in front of him.

The controversy should have ended there. At that moment, it was up to Ramos to de-escalate the situation, to stop inserting himself into the match and to let things play out on the court. In front of him were two players in a sweltering state, who were giving their everything, while he sat at a lordly height above them. Below him, Williams vented, “You stole a point from me. You’re a thief.”

There was absolutely nothing worthy of penalizing in the statement. It was pure vapor release. She said it in a tone of wrath, but it was compressed and controlled. All Ramos had to do was to continue to sit coolly above it, and Williams would have channeled herself back into the match. But he couldn’t take it. He wasn’t going to let a woman talk to him that way. A man, sure. Ramos has put up with worse from a man. At the French Open in 2017, Ramos leveled Rafael Nadal with a ticky-tacky penalty over a time delay, and Nadal told him he would see to it that Ramos never refereed one of his matches again.

But he wasn’t going to take it from a woman pointing a finger at him and speaking in a tone of aggression. So he gave Williams that third violation for “verbal abuse” and a whole game penalty, and now it was 5-3, and we will never know whether young Osaka really won the 2018 U.S. Open or had it handed to her by a man who was going to make Serena Williams feel his power. It was an offense far worse than any that Williams committed. Chris Evert spoke for the entire crowd and television audience when she said, “I’ve been in tennis a long time, and I’ve never seen anything like it.”

I tend to agree with Jenkins that Ramos should have let the “You’re a thief” thing go. This was the finals of a Grand Slam and the paying customers came to see a legend try to eke out one more victory in the twilight of her career.

But, absent other evidence, it’s outrageous to insinuate that Ramos acted as he did because his delicate male ego couldn’t take being challenged by a strong woman. The cited Nadal example is really not comparable.  After repeatedly being warned for slow play for toweling off between points, Nadal vowed, “Give me the warnings you can because you will not referee me any more.” That’s whiny and petulant but not abusive. Williams was questioning Ramos’ integrity.

Competitive rage has long been Williams’s fuel, and it’s a situational personality. The whole world knows that about her, and so does Ramos. She has had instances where she ranted and deserved to be disciplined, but she has outlived all that. She has become a player of directed passion, done the admirable work of learning self-command and grown into one of the more courteous and generous champions in the game. If you doubted that, all you had to do was watch how she got a hold of herself once the match was over and how hard she tried to make it about Osaka.

Williams understood that she was the only person in the stadium who had the power to make that incensed crowd stop booing. And she did it beautifully. “Let’s make this the best moment we can,” she said.

Williams indeed handled the aftermath with the class of a champion. But that doesn’t mean she shouldn’t be expected to control her “competitive rage.” Beyond that, if umpires are supposed to adjust themselves to what the “whole world knows” about athletes, shouldn’t the same be true of athletes? Because Ramos’ reputation as a stickler for the rules is well known among tennis aficionados.

Ramos has been at the center of several violations matters the past few years. Many of the calls he made were against high-profile male players, and in most cases, the men complained about the calls. Another matter even involved Serena’s sister, Venus, who was warned over the same coaching signals issue for which Serena was called on Saturday.

Here’s a look at some of Ramos’ history:

– In May 2016 at the French Open, Ramos asked Venus to tell her coach to stop giving hand signals. Venus defended herself and said she wasn’t cheating or looking at her coach.

– In 2017 at the French Open, Novak Djokovic was given a fault on his serve by Carlos Ramos for time violations. He then received a code violation for unsportsmanlike conduct after yelling.

– In 2018 at Wimbledon, Ramos gave Djokovic a code violation for slamming his racquet into the ground. Djokovic later complained about a double standard from Ramos, who did not penalize Kei Nishikori for something similar.

– In 2017 at the French Open, Ramos called a time violation on Rafael Nadal. Nadal thought the call was selectively enforced and said he was not satisfied with it.

– In 2016 at the French Open, Ramos called Nick Kyrgios for a code violation for yelling at a towel boy. Kyrgios accused Ramos of having a double standard and was described as “mystified” by the penalty.

– In August 2016 at the Olympics, Ramos called Andy Murray for a code violation for saying “stupid umpiring.”

– In July 2017, Ramos called Andy Murray for a time violation for playing too slowly. Murray acknowledged he had been warned before receiving the violation but was still bothered by it.

A USTA official told Larry Brown Sports that the judges/officiating crew information is released prior to the start of play in the morning. That means both Williams and Naomi Osaka would have known Carlos Ramos would be the chair umpire for the match beforehand. A good amount of preparing for a match includes knowing about one’s opponent. But in order to be fully prepared for a match, players should also know and prepare for the playing conditions, court conditions, fan atmosphere, umpires/judges, and everything that could influence the match.

At the Atlantic, Gillian B. White argues that it goes beyond this particular incident between Williams and Ramos.

The U.S. Open final is the latest in a series of recent moments that have left fans of women’s tennis outraged. Just last week at the U.S. Open, Alize Cornet was penalized for briefly taking her shirt off in order to turn it around, after realizing that it was backwards. Many tennis fans ridiculed the call, noting that male tennis players take their shirts off frequently without getting in trouble.

And only a few weeks ago, the French Open said it would introduce a dress code that would ban outfits like the catsuit worn by Williams during the French Open—a suit she wears to prevent blood clots, after a pulmonary embolism in 2011 left her “on her death bed,” Williams said at the time.

“It will no longer be accepted,” the French Tennis Federation President Bernard Giudicelli said. “One must respect the game and the place.”

Taking a game away from Williams for using the word “thief” during such a high-stakes match is unlikely to do much to quash the notion  that a double standard exists between men and women in today’s competitive tennis field. And the stakes of that double standard can feel even higher for women of color. The support for Williams on Saturday—and throughout her career—comes not just from appreciation for her rare talent, but in part because some fans have an enduring memory of how difficult it is for women of color to make it in expensive, mostly white sports.

Tennis was one of the first sports to open itself up to women, albeit in a parallel tour and, until recently, for much smaller paydays. But there do seem to be double standards.

The Cornet penalty was silly. She came out from a break from the extreme heat with a fresh shirt on—backwards. She quickly turned it around, exposing a sports bra underneath. That’s hardly problematic.

The “catsuit” is a different matter. It’s simply not standard tennis attire. I’ve never seen a male player wear anything approaching it. Given that Williams seemingly had a legitimate medical rationale for it, one would think some sort of accommodation could have been achieved. But it’s not “sexist” to ban it.

White also alludes to the issue of race. While tennis has had star black players, including Arthur Ashe—whose name is on the stadium in which yesterday’s incident played out—there’s little doubt that many of the rules and traditions of the game stem from tennis’ country club roots. [Bill Jempty, editor of the defunct OTB Sports, reminds me that Althea Gibson, who won five Grand Slam titles, was successful at pro tennis a decade before Ashe.]

In her most famous meltdown before yesterday’s, Williams told a lineswoman that, “If I could, I would take this fucking ball and shove it down your fucking throat” and made allusions to her upbringing in Compton. McEnroe never said anything quite like that. Nor did Jimmy Connors, another great player known for berating the umps. But then they grew up in the traditional tennis culture.

One wonders if the honor culture of her old neighborhood (not all that dissimilar from that of the Deep South) didn’t play into yesterday’s events as much as or even more than sexism. Williams seemed genuinely offended that the umpire was accusing her of cheating. He wasn’t. The call was on her coach for signaling, which the coach admitted after the game that he was doing. But Williams couldn’t let it go, repeatedly demanding an apology and an acknowledgment that she’s an honorable player.

UPDATE: Following some ledes from Twitter, I’m reminded that John McEnroe was not only constantly fined for his outbursts but was suspended from the game for two months back in 1987 and disqualified from a Grand Slam, the Australian Open, in 1990. In the case of the latter, the progression was harsher than that applied to Williams: “the previous year’s four-step process to default had been changed to a new three-step rule: first a warning, then a point penalty, then a default.” Presumably, the rules have subsequently been changed back. Granting that McEnroe wasn’t in the finals when this happened and was no longer the top player in the game, being tossed from the tournament for a third violation is much harsher than simply losing a game.  (Jimmy Connors also received a 10-week ban in 1986, although that was for the particularly egregious act of storming off the court during a match.)

This incident, at the 1987 U.S. Open, is particularly instructive:

John McEnroe wasn’t pushed to the very edge of U.S. Open elimination by Ivan Lendl or Boris Becker or even Slobodan Zivojinovicn Saturday. He almost took himself out of the tournament with another temperamental outburst.

When watching McEnroe at the U.S. Open, the question is not: Will he blow up? With McEnroe, blowing up at Flushing Meadow is only a matter of time.

McEnroe, once more, came ever so close to departing the National Tennis Center early.

He was just one tantrum, one word, actually, away from being defaulted from his third-round match against Zivojinovic. Finally, McEnroe realized his predicament, shut up and got down to work, defeating the 24-year-old player from Yugoslavia, 6-4, 5-7, 6-7, 6-4, 6-3, in a four-hour match.

It’s what Williams should have done yesterday.

FILED UNDER: Gender Issues, Sports
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is a Security Studies professor at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. Tm01 says:

    Wow.
    That’s a lot of research into one judge’s history of rulings and decisions.

    Of course, if the judge were a Republican, I expect this article would have jumped immediately to the conclusion that he’s a sexist and a racist, and this was all just another example of Trump’s America.

    And all the commenters would have jumped right in talking about secret signals and dog whistles and what not.

    “Monkey up” and it’s OMG! I need to write an article now about racism and sexism! Which certainly appears to be what a lot of sports writers in fact did.

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  2. James Joyner says:

    @Tm01: Please get some original material.

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  3. Warren Peese says:

    The real issue is that a ref makes calls so as not to give an unfair advantage to a player, and that was Mr. Ramos’ actual offense. When there’s a situation where “100 percent of the coaches on 100 percent of the matches” coach their players with gestures and hand signals, it was clear that Mr. Ramos’ first call was arbitrary and unnecessary.
    That call was bad on multiple levels. One, it gave Ms. Osaka an unfair advantage because her coach was doing the exact same thing, yet she wasn’t warned. Two, it questioned Ms. Williams integrity, which was unfair to Ms. Williams. From that, the player can’t help but conclude that that ref was biased against her. Finally, that call set the tone for the rest of the match. Not only was Ms. Williams competing against Ms. Osaka, she was competing against the ref. These players are at the most elite level, and small differences–miniscule differences, even–can change the momentum and outcome of a competition. You either call it both ways or you swallow your whistle, but Mr. Ramos inserted his ego into the situation and caused this whole damn thing to happen.

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  4. Hal_10000 says:

    But there have been top male players, including John McEnroe, the favorite of my youth, who routinely berated officials when frustrated.

    I always hated McEnroe. He was a crybaby and a bully. He mellowed slightly later on. But this was one of the reasons I liked Sampras so much. His calm on the court was a welcome relief from the McEnroe-Connors line of spoiled jerkwads.

    As for this incident, it looks like multiple players throughout the tournament got warnings. And this ump seems to have a history of warning prominent players (and having them whine that they’re being unfairly treated). Might be time to revisit the coaching rule.

    Worst reaction though was the crowd booing the champion. That was an utter disgrace. Worse than anything Serena did, which was in the heat of the moment.

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  5. Kathy says:

    In all sports I know of, players and coaches argue with the referees/umpires often. I wonder if a single call has ever been reversed due to such arguments. My guess is none have ever been.

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  6. EddieInCA says:

    Serena deserved better.

    Ramos was out of line. Period.

    Sexism? 100%

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  7. James Joyner says:

    @EddieInCA:

    Ramos was out of line. Period.

    Sexism? 100%

    What’s your basis for that conclusion? Ramos has a long track record of enforcing these sort of rules against top male players.

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  8. Michael Reynolds says:

    One of the signs of good writing is that it can hold the interest of readers who don’t really care about the topic. I don’t care about tennis, but read the entire analysis.

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  9. Andre Kenji de Sousa says:

    I love Serena(To the point that my girlfriend is jealous of her) and I follow her and her sister since they were 100th in the ranking or something like that. But she was wrong here. She had to deal with a lot of sexism and racism in her career, but she was wrong here. You don’t thrash your racket and should not fight with the umpire.

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  10. Dutchmarbel says:

    @James Joyner: The guardian had a good article I think, about Ramos and his rep as an umpire. For me the money quote is: “Although it is impossible to prove whether Ramos was being pedantic or sexist during Saturday’s final, it is true that he has never penalised a player a game in such a high-stakes match. ”

    https://www.theguardian.com/sport/2018/sep/09/carlos-ramos-serena-williams-tennis-umpire-us-open

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  11. James Joyner says:

    @Dutchmarbel:

    “Although it is impossible to prove whether Ramos was being pedantic or sexist during Saturday’s final, it is true that he has never penalised a player a game in such a high-stakes match. ”

    A good piece of data. Now, for comparison, we need to know: Has another player in such a high-stakes match acted in the manner Serena Williams did yesterday?

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  12. Dutchmarbel says:

    @James Joyner: I don’t follow fanatically enough tbh. But from another piece in the Guardian:

    The American tennis journalist Richard Deitsch agreed it was sexism, claiming a man of Williams’s professional stature would not have been subject to such stringent enforcement of the rules. He tweeted: “I covered 17 US Opens for Sports Illustrated. There is no way a men’s player with Serena’s resume (multiple Grand Slam titles, economic driver of the sport) is getting a third code violation for that language in the finals of a major. No way.”

    https://www.theguardian.com/sport/2018/sep/09/tennis-rallies-behind-serena-williams-after-us-open-sexism-claim

    I also have to admit that I think 3 incidents in 9 year for someone who plays so much and for such high stakes is not overly often.

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  13. EddieInCA says:

    @James Joyner:

    1. In the history of his umpiring career, Ramos has never given a game to any male player during a grand slam tournament, much less a final.

    2. I follow Tennis closely, and see male players on an almost weekly basis, verbally abuse umpires MUCH worse than Serena did.

    3. Ramos gave no warning for the coaching violation, which is what umpires do 99% of the time.

    4. Retired US tennis star Andy Roddick tweeted, “I’ve regrettably said worse and I’ve never gotten a game penalty.”

    5. James Blake, a retired tennis star, tweeted that he had said worse things on the court and did not get penalized.

    6. Sally Jenkins, in her column in The Washington Post on Sunday, wrote, “Ramos took what began as a minor infraction and turned it into one of the nastiest and most emotional controversies in the history of tennis, all because he couldn’t take a woman speaking sharply to him.”

    7. Christine Brennan – “This is a sport that gave us John McEnroe; the sport that gave us Ilie Năstase; Jimmy Connors; I could go on and on — men who have gotten away with far worse than saying ‘You’re a thief. You took a point from me.’ That’s exactly what Serena did,” USA Today columnist and ABC News commentator Christine Brennan told WTOP. “And so looking at this in the context of the game of tennis and the history of tennis, Serena is absolutely right to say that men could get away with it and women could not.”

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  14. James Joyner says:

    @Dutchmarbel: I didn’t realize Deitch was a tennis reporter in a previous incarnation. He’s been on the media beat as long as I’ve known him. He’s almost certainly right that no man has ever received that penalty in that situation. The McEnroe penalties, for example, happened either after his prime or other than in the finals of Grand Slams. But that’s a far cry from evidence that Ramos was being sexist here.

    @EddieInCA:

    3. Ramos gave no warning for the coaching violation, which is what umpires do 99% of the time.

    I thought that’s what he did? But the warning was followed by a point for the racket abuse and then a game for the verbal abuse.

    As to Roddick and Blake, did they commit multiple violations in a row? Williams wasn’t penalized a game for the comment but for the sequence of events. Moreover, it’s Ramos’ history.

    I’ve already addressed Jenkins; her column was at the heart of the OP.

    I’m sympathetic to Brennan’s argument. But, again, Connor and McEnroe received all manner of fines, suspensions, and penalties for their conduct on the court. The question is whether their conduct was much worse than Williams’. Certainly, in at least a couple of incidences, McEnroe went further than “You’re a thief.”

    It’s worth noting that, in previous instances, Williams’ problems were with female officials. That doesn’t preclude double standards, of course, but it is an indicator that Ramos isn’t being sexist in calling out her behavior.

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  15. KM says:

    Refs must be consistent in their calls to be fair. If you make a bad call early on, you must keep making that bad call every time the situation comes up. Ramos clearly didn’t or we wouldn’t be having this conversation.

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  16. R. Dave says:

    @James Joyner: @Dutchmarbel: “Although it is impossible to prove whether Ramos was being pedantic or sexist during Saturday’s final, it is true that he has never penalised a player a game in such a high-stakes match. ”

    A good piece of data. Now, for comparison, we need to know: Has another player in such a high-stakes match acted in the manner Serena Williams did yesterday?

    It’s actually a pretty misleading piece of data. The umps don’t set the penalties, they call the code violations. The penalties are automatic and ratchet up based on the number of violations called against the player in the match so far. First violation is a warning. Second violation is a point. Third violation is a game. So the fact that Ramos has never “penalized a player a game” is irrelevant. What matters is whether Ramos has ever called a code violation for (i) coaching, (ii) racket abuse, or (iii) verbally abusing the ump. Based on the links in the OP, the answer to (ii) and (iii) is “yes, he has”, and as for (i), he’s certainly called a violation for the similarly ticky-tack issue of time delay.

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  17. EddieInCA says:

    @James Joyner:


    I thought that’s what he did? But the warning was followed by a point for the racket abuse and then a game for the verbal abuse.

    Wrong. He gave her a code violation for being “coached”, whereas it’s almost always a warning. Otherwise, the abuse of Racquet would have been the first code violation, instead of the 2nd, which mandates a point being lost. The code violation for abuse was the third, and mandated a game penalty.

    He never gave her a warning, as is customary, 99.9% of the time.

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  18. EddieInCA says:

    @James Joyner:

    Additionally, this didn’t happen in a vaccuum. Let’s remember that Williams was treated so egregiously in the past at the US Open that she was given a formal apology.

    https://www.nytimes.com/2004/09/09/sports/tennis/williams-receives-apology-and-umpires-open-is-over.html

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  19. R. Dave says:

    @EddieInCA: Additionally, this didn’t happen in a vaccuum. Let’s remember that Williams was treated so egregiously in the past at the US Open that she was given a formal apology.

    https://www.nytimes.com/2004/09/09/sports/tennis/williams-receives-apology-and-umpires-open-is-over.html

    You’re right; it didn’t happen in a vacuum. There’s also the 2009 US Open incident in which she threatened to shove a ball down the lineswoman’s throat for calling her on a foot fault when she was trailing at the end of the 2nd set. And then there’s the 2011 US Open incident when she shouted in the middle of her opponent’s serve-return and repeatedly berated the umpire for calling her on it and told her she’d better look the other way if she ever saw Serena coming toward her. So yes, 14 years ago, she got shafted on some bad calls at the US Open and got angry, and then 9 years ago and 7 years ago she was correctly called on some violations, and she got abusive. Beyond those particularly egregious incidents, she has a general reputation for getting huffy and aggressive when she’s losing or is otherwise off her game. And of course, in the meantime, she’s racked up such an impressive string of wins, including I think six US Open championships, that she’s considered a strong contender for the GOAT. So yeah, I’m not buying the idea that a few bad calls 14 years ago somehow excuses or explains her current overreaction.

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  20. Crusty Dem says:

    This is a case where a lawyer can look at the letter of the law and find violations, but a tennis player knows these calls, particularly in this situation, is absolutely bogus. The violation for coaching is egregious. The rules against coaching aren’t there because coaching is an advantage or a major issue, they exist because the appearance of the player as a solo entity is valued. Still players have regularly conversed openly and widely with coaches in this year’s US Open without so much as a warning. Giving a penalty (no warning) for “hand signals” in the final? Completely absurd. And a game penalty for “verbal abuse” when there was no foul language? That doesn’t happen. The umpire clearly has a desire to be the focus of attention and has no business ever working at this level again.

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  21. EddieInCA says:

    @R. Dave:

    You’re right; it didn’t happen in a vacuum. There’s also the 2009 US Open incident in which she threatened to shove a ball down the lineswoman’s throat for calling her on a foot fault when she was trailing at the end of the 2nd set.

    Interesting that you left out some critical facts:

    1. The score at the time as 5-6 in the 2nd set, Williams trailing, having lost the first set.
    2. The “Foot Fault”, almost never called on a second serve, was undectable from ANY replay angle and they had six angles. I remember because I was watching that match. The foot fault was completely bogus. The lineswoman then went to the umpire and had some words with the umpire who then assessed a code violation that ended the match. So… a completely bogus, phantom foot fault was the cause of all the agita. You very suspiciously left that fact out.

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  22. EddieInCA says:

    @R. Dave:

    So yeah, I’m not buying the idea that a few bad calls 14 years ago somehow excuses or explains her current overreaction.

    A few bad calls? You’re either being disingenous or delusional.

    Name any athlete in Tennis who has had more than one bad call go against him/her in a Grand Slam event. Serena (and Venus) have been dealing with bad calls their entire careers – along with way too much racial hatred and abuse.

    She deserved better last night in NYC. So did Naomi Osaka.

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  23. James Joyner says:

    @EddieInCA:

    Additionally, this didn’t happen in a vaccuum. Let’s remember that Williams was treated so egregiously in the past at the US Open that she was given a formal apology.

    That was 14 years ago! And the official who made the most egregious call was a woman.

    @Crusty Dem: I think you’re right on the initial penalty for coaching—and that’s what seemed to unglue Williams. But Ramos has been the chair umpire for numerous Grand Slam finals matches; he’s presumably one of the very best in the business. And, reading a more detailed accounting of the back-and-forth, I’m more persuaded than I was initially that Williams deserved the verbal abuse penalty. She called him a liar before calling him a thief; that’s simply unacceptable.

    Given how many meltdowns Williams has had and that most of her disputes have been with female officials, I’m not inclined to believe that she’s being singled out because of her sex. But it’s nonetheless quite possible, even likely, that umpires will generally let male players away with more verbal abuse before penalizing them.

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  24. Eric Florack says:

    @Tm01: no question about it.

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  25. Crusty Dem says:

    @James Joyner:

    Disliking a call and protesting vociferously, even aggressively, should not result in a game penalty and has not in the past by Ramos in his matches. In 2014 at the French, Ramos gave Djokovic a point penalty for “slow play” and Djokovic went after him for quite some time and told him he “lost his mind”. Only a warning. Just like baseball, there are certain words that guarantee a penalty (none of which Williams used), but anything else should first receive a warning and Ramos didn’t use it. And for a game penalty in the US Open final, that’s poor umpiring..

    Ramos may be a good technical umpire, but he should have learned the first rule of umpiring – no one is there to watch him – if he does his job well no one should know his name…

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  26. Eric Florack says:

    Yet another of the protected class claiming that the reason that she lost was because the rules and the judges were unfair.

    Hillary Clinton was unavailable for comment.

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  27. R. Dave says:

    @EddieInCA: Name any athlete in Tennis who has had more than one bad call go against him/her in a Grand Slam event. Serena (and Venus) have been dealing with bad calls their entire careers – along with way too much racial hatred and abuse.

    Seriously? You don’t think any bad calls have ever been made against any other player in a Grand Slam event? Come on, man. This very article links to a number of ticky-tack calls against marquis male players by the same damn ump, for starters. I really don’t understand why it’s so hard for Serena stans to just accept that she’s a sore loser. Lots of other great players are too, and they get called out for it all the time. McEnroe, Connors, Djokovic, etc. were/are all recognized as great players while simultaneously being widely viewed as assholes. Why can’t Serena be both as well?

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  28. Crusty Dem says:

    @Eric Florack:

    Yawn. Time for a reboot.

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  29. EddieInCA says:

    @R. Dave:

    So you can’t name one. Got it.

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  30. James Joyner says:

    @Crusty Dem: I agree that Ramos over-inserted himself in this match. While I’m not a huge “swallow the whistle” guy, I do think officials have an especial duty to avoid inserting themselves into outcomes in championship games. But that’s a separate question from whether he was sexist.

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  31. R. Dave says:

    @EddieInCA: Off the top of my head, I also can’t name any particular bad calls in a Stanley Cup playoff, or a Superbowl, or the Final Four, or the World Series, or any other sport’s major events. Why? Because they happen all the time. Controversial and/or borderline calls are a dead standard part of any sport, and with a few minutes of Googling, either one of us could easily cite a number of examples. I’m not going to bother with that, though, because it’s a waste of time. I know you’re not an idiot since we’ve both been posting here for years, so you obviously know your suggestion that no other bad calls have ever been made in a Grand Slam is ludicrous, and I can only conclude that you’re more interested in having an internet-style “debate” than an actual discussion. Not my cup of tea, so I’ll just leave it there.

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  32. EddieinCa says:

    @R. Dave:

    Sorry Dave. I wasn’t clear. It’s not my position that bad calls don’t happen during Grand Slams. My point is that no athlete has faced more bad calls in Finals than Serena. No one.

    Sure bad calls happen occasionally. But she’s had documented bad calls go against here for almost 20 years.

    The only comparable situation I can think of is actually the Patriots and how they seem to get every 50/50 call go their way for the past 15 years -including a horrible review snafu yesterday.

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  33. James Joyner says:

    @EddieinCa:

    Sure bad calls happen occasionally. But she’s had documented bad calls go against here for almost 20 years.

    The only comparable situation I can think of is actually the Patriots and how they seem to get every 50/50 call go their way for the past 15 years -including a horrible review snafu yesterday.

    I suspect this is just confirmation bias. As noted in the OP, I’m at best a casual tennis fan at this point. But what I think you’re seeing in the cases of both Serena Williams and the Patriots is a natural consequence of their greatness. Nobody has gotten as many bad calls in Grand Slam finals as Serena Williams because nobody has been in anywhere close to as many Grand Slam finals as Serena Williams. Likewise, with the possible exception of the Dallas Cowboys, no NFL team in the last twenty years has been on national television nearly as often as the Patriots. So, every controversial call that goes their way will simply be amplified.

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  34. R. Dave says:

    @EddieinCa:

    Ah, ok. That makes more sense, then. It’s a claim that would require huge amounts of research and a lot of subjective decisions to either support or refute, though, and I’m guessing neither of us is sufficiently invested (or has enough free time on our hands!) to do that research. I will agree that my sense from watching tennis on and off since I was a kid in the 80’s is that Venus and Serena did get pretty routinely dragged and probably received more than their fair share of bad calls in the early years of their pro careers, and that Capriatti match really was some of the worst officiating I’ve ever seen. I find it a lot harder to believe that the same has been true for the last 10 years or so, though. Serena has been the single most dominant player and biggest individual draw for a long time now, and if anything, the stars always get more slack than the up-and-comers. How much of the early pushback she got was due to racism or sexism and how much was due to the fact she was always the kind of brash, expressive, “tennis etiquette is boring and stuffy” player that traditionalists love to hate is hard to say, though I’m sure it was both.

    I put myself and my family in that latter category, for the record. I grew up hearing from my parents about how McEnroe, Connors, Agassi and a number of other American stars of the 80s and 90s were conceited loudmouths and poor sports with no respect for the game, and I had much the same impression of the Williams sisters as well. No denying the skill, but I will always respect players who keep their cool and remember their manners on the court and instinctively disdain those that don’t.

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  35. Tyrell says:

    I remember well the John McEnroe tirades and outbursts, which I felt was done for effect and to get some edge. It did seem to bring some attention to tennis, which ranks probably lower than baseball, soccer, bowling, and NASCAR when it comes to action. Overall tennis is way off the radar, a participant sport much more than spectator. When I think of tennis on tv, I think a three hour nap.
    Conners was usually a nice person. John Newcombe, Rod Laver, and Roscoe Tanner were my favorites.

    “How ’bout them Cowboys!”

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  36. Warren Peese says:

    @EddieInCA: And #8, Billie Jean King.

    The cause was the inconsistent application of a rule — and the rule itself — that led to the warning that chair umpire Carlos Ramos gave to Williams for coaching coming from her player’s box: If tennis would catch up with the 21st century and allow coaching on every point, the situation on the court would never have escalated to the level of absurdity that it did. Every player, after all, still has to play the match — she has to execute on every point, and she should never be held responsible for the actions of a coach. Coaching happens all the time, at all levels of tennis. So why not just allow it?
    The effect was an abuse of power: Ramos crossed the line. He made himself part of the match. He involved himself in the end result. An umpire’s job is to keep control of the match, and he let it get out of control. The rules are what they are, but the umpire has discretion, and Ramos chose to give Williams very little latitude in a match where the stakes were highest. Granted, Williams could have taken some responsibility and moved on after the first warning (and, speaking from experience, it’s debatable whether she knew this was a warning or not), and before the point and game penalties started flying.

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  37. James Joyner says:

    @Warren Peese: I saw that. But an argument that the rule is stupid is not an argument that it’s sexist.

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  38. Warren Peese says:

    @James Joyner: The application of the rule may well be sexist, not only that it was made, but that it was made in a Grand Slam final with historic implications. At the very least, enforcement of the rule is unfair when “100 percent of the coaches on 100 percent of the matches” coach their players. A fair enforcement would’ve been to hit both players.

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  39. R. Dave says:

    @Warren Peese: The application of the rule may well be sexist, not only that it was made, but that it was made in a Grand Slam final with historic implications. At the very least, enforcement of the rule is unfair when “100 percent of the coaches on 100 percent of the matches” coach their players. A fair enforcement would’ve been to hit both players.

    I really don’t get this line of argument, which seems to be a common feature of the various Serena defenses I’ve seen. On the one hand, you complain that the ump called such a technical violation in a big match like this, but on the other hand, you complain that the violation isn’t called 100% percent of the time for the sake of fairness. Similarly, Serena was furious that the ump was accusing her of receiving sideline coaching (which she considers cheating), and her defenders echoed that sentiment until her coach admitted that he was in fact coaching, at which point he and her defenders started arguing that it’s a stupid rule and everyone does it anyway so it’s no big deal.

    So, to sum up, (i) the mere accusation of sideline coaching is egregiously offensive but it’s a stupid rule that everyone breaks so it’s really no big deal, and (ii) as long as it is the rule, fairness requires that it should be called 100% of the time, but it should never be called in championship matches.

    Anyone else reminded of Trump’s “It’s ridiculous to suggest there was collusion, but everyone does it and it’s no big deal” line of argument?

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  40. Dutchmarbel says:

    @R. Dave: Her coach admitted but also said that he thought she hadn’t seen it, so she was right in denying it.
    People saying that it is a stupid rule means that it has no real impact on the game, so at a moment of such high stakes the umpire should let it go (I think in this case the ‘coaching’ was a handsignal).
    If 100% of the coaches do it, Naomi’s coach did it too
    If the rules are called differently for men playing at finales they are sexist.

    It is like @JamesJoyner saying “I’m not inclined to believe that she’s being singled out because of her sex.” Followed by “But it’s nonetheless quite possible, even likely, that umpires will generally let male players away with more verbal abuse before penalizing them.” as a conclusion to why he doesn’t think it was sexist.

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  41. Warren Peese says:

    @R. Dave: I fully agree with the first eight words of your comment.
    The call was unnecessary as it could be called at practically any time during any match. That it happened in a Grand Slam final against a 23-year veteran speaks to that ref’s questionable judgment.

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  42. James Joyner says:

    @Dutchmarbel:

    It is like @JamesJoyner saying “I’m not inclined to believe that she’s being singled out because of her sex.” Followed by “But it’s nonetheless quite possible, even likely, that umpires will generally let male players away with more verbal abuse before penalizing them.” as a conclusion to why he doesn’t think it was sexist.

    I don’t think there’s evidence that Serena was singled out here or treated differently than this particular chair umpire has treated male players under similar circumstances. I nonetheless think it quite possible that generally speaking umpires give male players more latitude. Most of Serena’s flare-ups have been with female officials, so I don’t think they’re intentionally discriminating against her. But it’s quite possible that even women have a double standard in what behavior is within bounds for a man versus a woman.

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  43. Tyrell says:

    @Hal_10000: McEnroe seemed to hint that his outbursts were planned drama, designed to get attention and to influence the umpires’ on future calls. Athletes do this all the time. Look at the ref baiting in the NBA and the NFL. Coaches especially know how to play this game.
    Who even watches that stuff anyway? Equates with watching the jewelry channels and paint drying. It is also good background noise for going to sleep.

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  44. Tyrell says:

    @James Joyner: “How about them Cowboys?”
    Things aren’t looking too good for them right now.
    “When Jerry Jones talks, people listen”
    Maybe, just maybe they will beat the Giants this weekend.

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  45. Tank McReady says:

    No one in the culture at large cares about statistical analysis of Ramos’ or any other officials calls on men vs. women, or overviews of trends in officiating by gender. The arguments, in reality, boil down to ones not of rules and sportsman(woman?)ship, but politics. Consider: no one defending Williams fails to note that she just had a baby and nearly died of a pulmonary embolism, as if that mattered to why she was penalized. It’s to make her a more sympathetic figure, and to emphasize her “femaleness” in contrast to the big bad lobo Ramos. She herself berated Ramos with the charge that “I have a daughter and I stand for what’s right for her and I never cheated.”

    We’re in the midst of the #metoo movement where women rightly are standing up against men who would take advantage of their positions to abuse women. Her match is being conflated in the zeitgeist with the growing social understanding that men must be more responsible in their interactions with women. Williams was not being abused, nor did she have anything taken away from her that was her right. At worst, she suffered from some bad calls, and that’s part of sport.

    What those who would use this issue improperly as a whip against sexism fail to understand is that the whip can crack back. From now on I will find it difficult to take Williams seriously if she objects to referee calls in the future. If she and her supporters demand that she occupy a special position beyond criticism, her accomplishments will be diminished.

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