Managing editor Peter Rowe argues that while Serena Williams may have had a point about the coaching violation, she lost any rational argument completely when she accused the umpire of being a thief and of lying.
OK, so who was at fault? Serena or umpire Carlos Ramos
That’s the question – and subsequent debate – now rocking the world of tennis.
Rocking, or shocking, some might say – but there are arguments on both sides.
Before look at the rights and the wrongs, let’s be clear: the feud that followed the illegal coaching call has done nothing to enhance the reputation of the game – let alone tarnish that of the participants.
So what was the alleged rule break?
During the second game of the second set (Osaka, the innocent party here, had already won the first), Ramos called Williams for a code violation for receiving illegal coaching.
A subtle hand signal video has subsequently shown from her longtime coach Patrick Mouratoglou. Ramos saw this as illegal coaching.
Now Williams told Ramos this was simply a misunderstanding.
Quote: “I don’t cheat to win. I’d rather lose. I’m just letting you know.”
OK so far… But it then escalated when Williams smashed her racket in frustration at losing the fifth game of that second set.
In the rule book, racket ‘abuse’ is a code violation.
So her ‘second’ violation resulted in a point penalty. With me so far?
That gave the onlooking Osaka a 15-0 lead – and the visuals of Williams looking at the chair, clearly showed she was not impressed.
Now some say, she got the impression that Ramos had retracted that first penalty – for coaching.
But when she discovered he hadn’t – all hell broke loose.
“I don’t cheat,” she shouted. “You owe me an apology. You owe me an apology.” And it continued… “I have never cheated in my life. I have a daughter and I stand [for] what’s right for her, and I’ve never cheated, and you owe me an apology.”
Now, for some reason, by now she had blown it, in terms of mental ability to discuss, or even argues in a rational manner.
She then accused the umpire of “attacking my character.” Wow!
And now the biggie… “You will never, ever, ever be on another court of mine as long as you live. You are the liar. When are you going to give me my apology? You owe me an apology. Say it. Say you’re sorry. … And you stole a point from me. You’re a thief, too!”
As a parent of a sport playing son, the last thing you do is call out the referee, umpire, judge, whatever he or she is called, as a ‘thief’.
In one of my favourite sports, rugby, that would be a 10m penalty and 10 minutes in the sin-bin, if not a sending off.
So Ramos, having heard the word ‘thief’ immediately called a third code violation – with the penalty the automatic loss of the game, putting Osaka 5-3 up.
Osaka of course, then went on to win. But who is right and who is wrong?
Well, her coach Mouratoglou contradicted Williams afterwards, admitting that he was trying to coach her. And here’s where it gets technical, in an argument sense:
If she wasn’t looking at her coach, then perhaps there was no code violation as she wouldn’t have seen the coaching instructions.
Maybe – but that is really clutching at straws.
To be fair, let’s quote the rulebook:
“Players shall not receive coaching during a match (including the warm-up). Communications of any kind, audible or visible, between a player and a coach may be construed as coaching.”
Seems pretty straight to me, as it did with Ramos.
Apparently not for the WTA, who quite amazingly see it as a case of misogyny. What?
Let’s be clear here, Williams’ feminist accusations have absolutely nothing to do with the facts: facts that she verbally abused a match umpire and was fined $10,000 for it. (Another $7000 for the two other violations of coaching and for racket misuse).
But back to the coaching call… Mouratoglou’s comments after the game certainly seemed to confirm what many believe, that coaching happens all the time, despite the rules.
I’ve now heard the argument that the rule is unclear and hard to enforce – hardly a legal defence in court your honour. A rule is a rule and everyone signs up to that when they walk on court, surely.
Change the rule? That’s a debate for another day – and cannot be used in defence of what happened at Flushing Meadows on Saturday night.
Williams, initially, was OK in defending her position: she doesn’t cheat etc etc. And what did her daughter have to do with it? She’s a child, not a ‘get out of jail free card’.
Emotions took over and she started to lose the logic in her argument. But to then call out the umpire as a ‘liar’ does, in my opinion, go too far.
ESPN’s coverage suggested the umpire could have warned her as to her future conduct. But once she launched into her tirade about ’never, ever being on a court with her again…’ it was too late.
Now, Williams argued this had happened before. Well, sort of… in 2004 she received an apology after a series of real bad calls in a match against Jennifer Capriati.
In 2009 she got into a dispute with a linesman over a foot fault.
The linesman accused her of saying she would ‘kill her’. The accusation was never proven.
And a few years later there was a spat with an umpire who penalised her for shouting ‘Come on’ before a post was over.
So, she has history and emotional memories of past events.
In my opinion, that does not excuse her behaviour this time round. Williams tried to argue it was because she was a woman, and then it was a race thing.
No, it was because she broke the rules – as the umpire saw it.
She may have felt hard one by, but you just do not call out officials in the manner she did – you just don’t.
As in all sports, you take the ref’s call as it’s made on the day, and you move on.
For Naomi Osaka, it took the shine off her magnificent victory, well deserved.
For Serena, a legend of the game, it left for many, a sour taste of bitterness in defeat – no matter how the events unfolded.
As for Carlos Ramos – he played to the letter of the laws as presented to him on that evening. Had Serena not begun a personal attack and used the ‘thief’ word, we may not be having this conversation, but he had to do what he had to do.
Arguments that he didn’t enforce such rules in other games in other tournaments hold no water – it’s what happened in this match at this event.
And the debate that Ramos should not have bothered to cite her for the coaching violation ‘because it happens everywhere’ defies both logic and the rule book.
The umpire is not there to to make the rules, but to enforce them. And that he did.
Sadly we may forget who actually won the championships – a young 20-year-old called Naomi Osaka.
Serena Williams has been a great champion but she may have tarnished her image with this petulant outburst against match officials just doing their job.
An outburst that has absolutely nothing to do with gender or race – quite bluntly – she, and her coach, broke the rules.
I do hope we don’t remember the 2018 US Open in years to come for all the wrong reasons.