The U.S. Open semifinal showdown between Serena Williams and Kim Clijsters in 2009 will forever be remembered by Williams's threat to "shove a tennis ball" down the line judge's throat. The tennis superstar lashed out at the judge after she had called Williams on a foot fault, meaning Williams stepped over the baseline when serving. The call cost Williams the point. It was the verbal tirade that followed that cost her the match.
History repeated itself this weekend. This time, it was a final, so the stakes were even higher. Williams was seeking her 24th grand slam title on Saturday on Arthur Ashe stadium in Flushing Meadows, New York. Her opponent, Naomi Osaka of Japan, 16 years her junior, was seeking her first.
They got through the first set drama free. About halfway through the second set, the umpire, Carlos Ramos, gave Williams a warning because he caught her coach, Patrick Mouratoglou, coaching her during the match. She was upset, telling Ramos that she's "not a cheater," but he let her know it was just a warning. She thanked him and that was that.
We thought. A few games later, when Williams lost a game she should have won, she smashed her racquet on the court. That cost her a penalty and a point. She was confused and frustrated by the punishment, walked back over to Ramos and proceeded to berate him, calling him a "thief" for "stealing" a point from her. Ramos issued another penalty against her for verbal abuse. That third violation cost her a whole game. She was incensed and demanded an apology. The same two referees who tried to mediate her 2009 outburst walked out on the court and tried to calm her down. Watch the exchange below.
"You owe me an apology!"— ESPN (@espn) September 8, 2018
Serena was fired up with the official in the final set of the US Open final. pic.twitter.com/r6RSbrirnV
During the dispute, Williams also accused the U.S. Open officials of sexism. Why, she wondered, were men allowed to get away with "much worse" behavior, but she was penalized for calling someone a "thief?" In addition to losing points, she was fined $17,000 for the violations.
She expanded on those arguments in her post-game press conference.
Everyone should listen to this from Serena Williams. pic.twitter.com/TF03dhpq2P— Cameron Cox (@CamCox12) September 8, 2018
Social media's reaction was as mixed as I've ever seen it. Half of viewers believe she was right to call out Ramos and say she hadn't seen her coach's hand signals. They also agree with her in arguing it was a double standard.
Unreal how many people would rather shame Serena for standing up for her integrity than the ref for his blatant disrespect. If you want to be mad at someone for ruining Osaka’s moment, blame him for accusing the greatest tennis player in the world of cheating in a title match— ?Bill K. Kapri?©™ (@ThatFlyGuyTy) September 8, 2018
That seemed like such a minor thing Serena said, to have a GAME taken away because she called the referee a thief. She's right: men call refs MUCH worse than that, in ALL sports, and nothing happens to them.— Gene Washington (@Genius443) September 9, 2018
Others said her behavior and her excuses were ridiculous.
Serena is an amazing player, the beat. But I think she was wrong today... and now to play to women card.... OMG. That was low .— Gina Giancola Koeppel (@jim_koeppel) September 8, 2018
Shame on Serena. She was coached, she broke a racket and she badgered the umpire. Three violations, two penalties. Serena stole a cleanly earned championship and a once-in-a-lifetime moment from Osaka.— Elizabeth Greer (@lizzygreer1) September 8, 2018
The Women's Tennis Association, and a few tennis legends, however, sided with Serena.
"The WTA believes that there should be no difference in the standards of tolerance provided to the emotions expressed by men versus women," WTA chief executive Steve Simon said in a statement. "We do not believe that this was done last night."
As for Mouratoglou, he admitted to coaching during the match. He said all coaches do it. That gave the commentators pause, wondering if the rules should be discontinued. Former tennis champ Billie Jean King thinks it's time.
(1/2) Several things went very wrong during the @usopen Women’s Finals today. Coaching on every point should be allowed in tennis. It isn’t, and as a result, a player was penalized for the actions of her coach. This should not happen.— Billie Jean King (@BillieJeanKing) September 9, 2018
(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
Thankfully, Williams did not use the awards ceremony to dwell on her ugly dispute with the umpire. After the match, she gave Osaka a big, warm embrace and congratulated her on her win. She put her arm around Osaka again to comfort her during the ceremony when the crowd kept booing. While everyone was expecting Serena to call out the umpire when she was handed the mic, instead she asked the crowd to stop booing and let Osaka have her moment.
Still, it's a shame that this match will be remembered for Williams's fight with the umpire, because Osaka played brilliantly and she made history. She is the first player - male or female - from Japan, to win a grand slam title. I'm sure we'll be seeing much more of her, sans the on court drama.
Compared to Saturday's fireworks, Sunday's men's final was a snoozer. Serbia's Novak Djokovic defeated Argentina's Juan Martin Del Potro for his third U.S. Open title 6-3, 7-6, 6-3.