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The Hawk News

The Student News Site of St. Joseph's University

The Hawk News

The Student News Site of St. Joseph's University

The Hawk News

It was a point of penalty


Why Serena Williams was penalized at the US Open

This past week, Naomi Osaka defeated Serena Williams in the US Open final, a game that will surely go down as one of the most memorable tennis matches of our generation.

Osaka made history by becoming the first Japanese-born tennis player to win a major tennis tournament. Unfortunately, this is not what the match will be remembered for.

The match ended in a reign of boos from the crowd, both players in tears and a subsequent $17,000 fine.

Early on in the second set, Williams was issued a code violation for receiving coaching during a match. Her coach was motioning to  her to approach the net during points, which is against the rules. Williams, in response to being assessed the warning, walked over to chair umpire, Carlos Ramos and tried to explain that her coach was merely giving her a thumbs up.

Williams explained that “If he gives me a thumbs up he’s telling me to ‘come on.’ I understand why you may have thought that was coaching but I’m telling you it’s not. I don’t cheat to win, I’d rather lose.”

Interestingly, after the match, Williams’ coach, Patrick Mouratoglou, told ESPN that he was in fact coaching her, but took issue with the inconsistency at which the rule has been enforced.

This is a fair argument, as there does need to be more consistency for the sake of clarity between umpires, coaches and players.

Regardless, being coached is not a huge deal and the punishment for a one–time offense is merely a warning.

The larger concern here should be the fact that Williams lied to Ramos about being coached. Williams acknowledged that she saw the hand motion from Mouratoglou, but tried to spin it into being interpreted as a “thumbs-up.”

Moments later, after seeming to have found the edge she was looking for, Williams lost that momentum. Out of frustration, she once again broke the rules and smashed her racket on the ground, resulting in a code violation.

There is no room for interpretation on whether smashing your racket is a code violation.

This is something that gets called every time. Ramos was left with no choice but to enforce a point penalty, the clear cut result of a second code violation. This was where things began to take off.

Williams, having noticed the point penalty on the scoreboard, once again approached Ramos. “This is unbelievable, every time I play here I have problems” Williams said, looking for an explanation from Ramos. (This is likely in reference to the time Williams cost herself a match by telling a line judge she would shove a tennis ball down her throat at the 2009 US Open).

Williams went on to insist that she did not get coaching, saying “I don’t cheat, I didn’t get coaching. You owe me an apology, I have never cheated in my life!” Obviously, Ramos is not going to apologize for something that he correctly saw and ruled on.

For those who are upset with the umpire for making the case that coaching should not be penalized, Williams’ seemed to have a different opinion. She repeatedly referred to it as “cheating” and something she has “never done in her life.”

This may not be totally true because her coach was comfortable with the fact that he was coaching. He didn’t seem as if it were the first time he’d done it.

I have no issue with Serena being coached, but I do have an issue with Serena lying about it and trying to make a fool of the umpire at one of the biggest tennis competitions.

Once the match went to another break, Osaka seemed to be on her way to victory. Williams, still fuming over the aforementioned decisions by the umpire, carried on from her chair and continued to berate Ramos.

Amongst her persistent demands for apologies, she added, “You will never, ever, ever be on another court of mine as long as you live. You are the liar.” Just before heading back out to the court Williams added “You stole a point from me, you’re a thief too.”

Within moments of that, Ramos assessed a third code violation, this time citing “verbal abuse” which resulted in a game penalty. This is a controversial ruling by Ramos and perhaps a lot of other chair umpires would not have reacted the same way.

Before making the knee–jerk reaction of labeling Ramos’ move sexist, one should take a look at his track record.

Over just the past few years, Ramos has had similar run-ins with male stars like Rafael Nadal, Novak Djokovic and Andy Murray.

These were situations where players were furious with perhaps some touchy code violations called on them. Nevertheless, none of them carried on to the extent which Williams did.

Referees and umpires are people too. Though we’d like them to be consistent across the board, that simply is not the case.

In baseball, strike zones differ between home plate umpires. In basketball, referees have different tolerance levels on how much mouthing off a player can do before they’re assessed a technical foul. In this case, it is clear that Ramos is a no–nonsense umpire, unconcerned with making exceptions for top ranked players in big matches.

Sure, John McEnroe and Jimmy Connors got away with saying some bad things decades ago, but these are guys who are probably remembered more for what they said and did between points, rather than the combined 15 majors between them.

Likewise, McEnroe was disqualified from the 1990 Australian open for a code of conduct violation, so he’s had his fair share of discipline dished out as well.

Serena Williams is undoubtedly one of the best to ever step foot on the tennis court. What she has brought to the game over the past 20 years is unrivaled and can never be taken from her.

When her career is all said and done, this will be merely a blip on the radar and she’ll be remembered for what got her to this point.

Her fierce competitiveness, relentless work ethic and all that came with it will be talked about for generations. But on this subject, Serena shouldn’t be celebrated nor revered.

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