The second set of Saturday’s women’s U.S. Open final was a total debacle, featuring a suspect code violation for coaching, and then an even more suspect game penalty for “verbal abuse,” triggering an insane and exhausting sequence where Serena Williams called down a tournament referee and brought the match to a screeching, catastrophic halt. The victor cried tears of anguish. It sucked so much ass.
Takes are already being launched. Sally Jenkins of the Washington Post puts the blame squarely and entirely on umpire Carlos Ramos, arguing forcefully and persuasively that, beyond the ticky-tack-seeming coaching and racket violations, Ramos evinced an unwillingness to accept from a woman the kind of verbal pushback he could expect to receive from many male competitors:
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.
Josh Levin of Slate spreads the blame between Ramos and Williams, making a reasonable and convincing case that Serena compounded Ramos’s anal-retentive code violations by losing her cool in spectacular fashion, in a way that would’ve marred the event even without the game penalty, which was itself a foreseeable consequence of going after Ramos in such an aggressive way:
I would even go so far as to say she was personally wronged by all of these decisions. But … that’s sports. Controversial, iffy calls are so commonplace as to be banal, and overcoming these sorts of calls is a totally normal thing for champions to have to do. Usually, Serena Williams has been able to do that. (Twenty-three Grand Slams!) In [her 2009, 2011, and 2018 U.S. Open meltdowns], she failed publicly and spectacularly. That doesn’t mean she’s an awful person. But it doesn’t mean she’s blameless either.
And then there’s this Gamergate-esque scalp-hunting bullshit, from Patrick Rishe at Forbes, who is willing to assign “ideals” to a bloodless corporate monstrosity in order to play cop and call down the thunder on Williams, for the crime of getting angry during a tennis match:
But the attributes Serena displayed during her second-set emotional meltdown, as well as her post-match comments, cannot make Nike pleased...and certainly aren’t consistent with Nike’s ideals. Last I checked:
- Nike is not about bullying (Williams clearly tried to bully the chair umpire, which is similar to another bullying incident involving Williams from the 2009 U.S. Open);
- Nike is not about succumbing to the moment (e.g. breaking racquets and implying umpires are dishonest);
- Nike is not about falsely accusing others of wrongdoing (e.g. dishonest and sexism) when self-accountability is called for.
While the take-ocalypse is still groggily revving into gear—it is both Sunday and the first Sunday of the NFL season, after all—the mundane and queasy business of sorting out the formalities falls to the various tennis bodies involved:
Wherever you happen to fall on Serena’s behavior Saturday night—for what it’s worth I’m probably somewhere between Jenkins and Levin—surely we can all agree that the umpire failed miserably as someone whose job it is to officiate a high-stakes contest between professional athletes in a sport that benefits tremendously, as a spectator event, from the snarling competitive intensity of its participants. Saturday night Ramos pulled some Joey Crawford shit, and the result was an event that should’ve been exultant and triumphant, no matter the victor, instead going down as the worst shit-show in recent tennis history.