Tuesday 11 December 2018

Tennis world divided over incredible scenes as Serena implodes at US Open

Williams argues with umpire Carlos Ramos during the US Open final. Photo: Jaime Lawson/Getty Images for USTA
Williams argues with umpire Carlos Ramos during the US Open final. Photo: Jaime Lawson/Getty Images for USTA

Simon Briggs

Serena Williams received a $17,000 fine yesterday for her conduct in Saturday's US Open final, which ended in disgraceful scenes as boos rang out during the post-match presentation ceremony, forcing the victorious Naomi Osaka to hide her tears with her cap.

Williams's emotional meltdown - in which she called chair umpire Carlos Ramos both a "liar" and a "thief" - split opinions in the world of tennis, which is disunited at the best of times.

Her post-match claims that Ramos had discriminated against her because of her gender were taken up by such luminaries as Billie Jean King and the former British No 1 Sue Barker, who said: "I've sat courtside and watched the men ranting at umpires and [they] haven't been given a violation."

Yet the fine reflected the fact that Ramos had followed the rule book to the letter. An umpire with a reputation for being strict but fair, he gave Williams three code violations in the second set, each of them a correct decision on its own terms.

Afterwards, Ramos was forced to forego the traditional presentation of a souvenir gift to the chair official, instead being escorted out of the stadium for his own safety.

The fine broke down into three categories. The coaching gestures made by Williams' coach Patrick Mouratoglou cost her $4,000, while her racket smash midway through the second set was worth $3,000 and the largest slice of the penalty, $10,000, corresponded to her verbal abuse of Ramos.

Naomi Osaka stands beside the defeated Serena Williams after Saturday’s night’s final. Photo: Timothy A. Clary/AFP/Getty Images
Naomi Osaka stands beside the defeated Serena Williams after Saturday’s night’s final. Photo: Timothy A. Clary/AFP/Getty Images

Any chance of seriously contesting Ramos' rulings was forfeited when Mouratoglou gave an interview to ESPN, only moments after the final had finished in a 6-2, 6-4 victory for Osaka, in which he admitted making a coaching gesture but insisted that Williams had not seen him do it.

Mouratoglou also added that "I was like 100 per cent of the coaches in 100 per cent of the matches, so we have to stop this hypocritical thing", and specifically accused Osaka's coach Sascha Bajin of having been at it too.

The fallout from all of this is likely to be difficult for the highly respected Ramos to handle.

A clip of Williams's post-match comments, in which she said that she was "fighting for women's rights", had received more than 250,000 likes on Twitter by the time the men's final started last night.

That press conference finished in whoops and applause, mostly from the many Williams camp followers who had found their way into the interview room, but also from a few supposedly impartial journalists.

Dozens of public figures in America took up her cause, supporting the theory that it was sexist for Williams to be docked a whole game for saying "thief" when repeat male offenders of the past such as John McEnroe and Jimmy Connors had come out with far worse things.

Yet few of these commentators understood the escalating nature of code violations, which become more punitive every time that the rules are broken.

Perhaps more surprisingly, there were overt declarations of support from some of tennis's myriad governing bodies. The Women's Tennis Association released a statement calling for the sport to celebrate "two amazing players, both of whom have great integrity", adding that "Serena at all times plays with class and makes us proud".

Katrina Adams, the president of the United States Tennis Association, went even further. She released a 150-word statement, emblazoned with the USTA logo, which celebrated the fact that Williams had called for the crowd to stop booing during the ceremony.

"What Serena did... showed a great deal of class and sportsmanship... She is an inspiration to me, personally, and a credit to the sport, win or lose."

Adams' odd speech during the presentation also came under close scrutiny yesterday, as she was forced to clarify that her comment "It's not the finish we were looking for" was a reference to the mid-match controversy rather than a suggestion that she would have preferred Williams to lift the title instead of Osaka.

Hurt

The unscheduled drama clearly didn't hurt viewing figures in the US, as host broadcaster ESPN announced that their initial audience ratings were the second highest in history. The previous highest overnight rating was supplied by Williams's quarter-final against sister Venus in 2015.

This is the third time in a decade that Williams has been fined for verbal abuse of officials on Arthur Ashe Stadium, and the financial penalties have been very different each time.

In 2009, after she threatened to "take this f***ing ball and shove it down [the] f***ing throat" of a lineswoman who had just called her for a foot fault, she was put on a two-year probation and given a fine of $175,000 on the understanding that she would pay only $82,500 as long as she did not transgress again in that time.

But the sanctions were much smaller in 2011.

That was the year when Williams responded to a "hindrance" call (in layman's terms, she lost the point because she shouted out a celebration while the rally was still alive) by telling chair umpire Eva Asderaki that she was a "hater" and "ugly inside".

The penalty on that occasion was a measly $2,000. (© Daily Telegraph, London)

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