As a fan of tennis, and an even bigger fan of the queen herself, I am as disappointed as anyone. The recent controversy surrounding the U.S. Open Grand Slam match between Williams and newcomer Naomi Osaka has, in typical 21st century American fashion, exploded into a moral and political debate.
But the more one explores the facts of what occurred, it becomes clear that the match was not a poignant illustration of gender inequality and sexism as Williams claims, but a poignant illustration of the problem with Williams, both as a sporting icon and as a person.
Here is a brief summary of what happened during the final which sparked national conversation. During the match against Osaka, Williams was penalized with three separate code violations, one for receiving hand signals from her coach, another for smashing her racquet and a third for arguing with and yelling at the chair umpire, Carlos Ramos.
The code violations culminated into a game penalty, and she ended up losing the final to the young Osaka in straight sets. After, she accused Ramos of being harsh and sexist with his calls against her.
At the core of this issue is a fundamental and recurring problem with Williams’s personality. Her history of violent outbursts and sore losing has stained her illustrious career on many occasions. She has never been afraid to chew out an umpire for a call she deemed incorrect or smash her racquet after a loss. Most famously, she was slapped with a two-year probation after threatening to shove a tennis ball down a linewoman’s throat.
Her passion for the game cannot be questioned, but often, that passion spills over into an inappropriate and downright childish realm. This most recent incident in the final exemplifies this; Williams was already losing to Osaka when she was assessed the game penalty.
Although she insisted she was not cheating, her coach admitted afterwards he had been coaching from the sidelines. It is well-known that illegal in-game coaching is a tactic widely used by players and coaches anyway, but the fact of the matter is Williams was caught in the act, and the umpire was within his rights, no matter how strict, to dole out a violation.
If the matter had ended there, the focus would be on the up-and-comer Osaka and her impressive victory over one of the greatest tennis players of all time. Williams’s dispute with the umpire would have been forgotten and she would have been free to pout in one of her multi-million dollar mansions.
However, it seems Williams could not take the notion of relenting the spotlight to another athlete, and accordingly ignited the world in controversy after accusing Ramos of blatant sexism. Was there any merit to the allegation? Probably not. While Ramos was certainly strict and unforgivingly disciplined in his approach to the match, he has a well-documented history of this against both men and women.
He has assessed several high-profile controversial penalties to stars such as Andy Murray, Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic. Perhaps this all could have been avoided if Williams had simply done some background research on the umpire beforehand in order to anticipate his level of severity.
To make matters worse, Williams’s inability to accept defeat with honor resulted in the complete disregard, and even shaming, of the rightful champion Osaka. At the post-match awards ceremony, William’s acceptance of her second place trophy was met with thunderous cheers while Osaka received furious boos when her name was called. If you still think what Williams did was “heroic,” go on YouTube and watch the 20-year-old Osaka in tears as the crowd boos her off the stage.
Williams is undoubtedly a sporting icon; she has this vibrant personality and relentless passion for everything she does that makes her so admirable and entertaining. But it is when her antics get in the way of others receiving their due credit that makes me lose respect for her. As an international brand and role model for young girls around the world, Williams must be held to a higher standard.
Running to sexism as a cover for a loss flies in the face of the feminism and female empowerment Williams is claiming to advocate. A desire to win is one thing. Shifting blame, refusing to respect opponents and desperately craving attention is a different ballgame — or tennis match — entirely.