Sexism didn’t beat Serena Williams, Naomi Osaka did
I want to start off by saying congratulations to Naomi Osaka, who earned every bit of her U.S. Open victory on Sept. 8.
I want to follow up by saying Serena Williams remains the greatest female tennis player, perhaps the greatest tennis player of either sex, to ever live.
But make no mistake, Naomi Osaka is the story here.
Serena Williams was a victim of many things last Saturday. She was a victim of Osaka’s six aces. She was a victim of Osaka’s 16 winners. She was a victim of Osaka’s 80 percent conversion rate on break points. Serena Williams was not a victim of sexism.
The media would have you believe that Osaka’s decisive 6-2, 6-4 victory was a patriarchal conspiracy to keep Williams from lifting her 24th major trophy. It couldn’t be farther from the truth.
The controversy began during the second game of the second set when Williams received her first code violation – a warning from chair umpire, Carlos Ramos, for illegal coaching from her coach, Patrick Mourataglou.
That’s when Williams approached the umpire and quipped, “I don’t cheat to win, I’d rather lose.” She continued the discussion with Ramos on the following changeover.
Mourataglou later admitted to illegal coaching, but said he believes Williams reacted the way she did because she didn’t see him. He also accused Osaka’s coach, Sascha Bajin, of “coaching every point too.”
Whether or not Bajin was illegally signaling to Osaka, Ramos made the right call in his warning. It is his job to call the shots as he sees them.
The drama didn’t stop there, however.
After losing the fifth game of the second set, Williams smashed her racket, resulting in the loss of a point. A punishment that the tennis pro of 22 plus years should’ve expected, considering this would be her second code violation.
Nonetheless, Williams approached Ramos again, this time yelling and demanding an apology.
Then, on the following changeover, Williams was back at it, this time threatening Ramos, “You will never, ever, ever be on another court of mine for as I long as I live! You owe me an apology!”
She went on to call Ramos a liar and a thief, all while still demanding an apology.
Ramos refused to apologize, which prompted Williams to reply, “Well then don’t talk to me.”
When returning to the court, Williams was still fuming and screaming at Ramos. Enough was enough. He then docked her an entire game for “verbal abuse,” her third code violation.
Osaka went on to close out the match, becoming the first Japanese player to ever win a grand slam–a sensational achievement at just 20 years old.
She cried while hoisting the trophy to a New York crowd of booing and jeers directed at Ramos. A moment that should have been special. A moment that should have been about her. A moment she had dreamed of her entire life.
Osaka even apologized to the U.S. crowd for beating Williams, the hometown hero, but she had absolutely nothing to apologize for. Osaka handily outplayed, outclassed and outhit her idol.
The moment was monumental for the young Haitian-Japanese player who’s lived in the United States since age three.
Osaka, a U.S. citizen, began representing Japan at age 10. The United States Tennis Association (USTA) had a better chance with Osaka when she was younger, but didn’t see much potential in her before they attempted to recruit her at age 16. Osaka declined, even though the Japan Tennis Association couldn’t provide any loans, coaching, equipment or conditioning. Her road to the top of the game has been anything but easy.
Osaka has since described her win over Williams as “surreal.”
Although Williams remained gracious in defeat, Williams still showed a lack of understanding and self-reflection in her post-match press conference.
“For me to say ‘thief’ and for him to take a game, it made me feel like it was a sexist remark. He’s never taken a game from a man because they said ‘thief,’” Williams said. “It blows my mind.”
What blows my mind is Williams’ inability to face the facts. The loss of the game had nothing to do Williams’ sex and everything to do with her behavior.
We must not forget this is a pattern for Williams, who famously threatened a female line judge and lost a point during her 2009 U.S. Open semifinal match versus Kim Clijsters.
Was that sexist? Would it be sexist NOT to penalize a woman’s poor behavior?
At this year’s US Open alone, only 22 code violations were issued to women, while 86 were issued to men. The reason Serena Williams lost a game was not simply because she called the umpire a thief. She repeatedly called him a liar and a thief after two prior code violations, all the while screaming and demanding an apology.
“I just feel like the fact that I have to go through this is just an example for the next person that has emotions, and that wants to express themselves, and wants to be a strong woman,” Williams lamented.
Her statements were a siren song for the media’s perpetual victimhood narrative of modern day feminism. Retweets and social media activism from many who were struck by a red meat quote and headline without even watching the match.
Serena Williams received the punishment she deserved. Full stop.
Ramos is one of the most respected umpires in the game – so much so that some umpires, though technically not allowed to talk with the press, are speaking out on behalf of the fraternity of tennis referees and threatening to unionize.
“There is a lot of unhappiness in the umpiring community because no one is standing up for officials,” an anonymous senior umpire told the Guardian.
When all is said and done, let’s not forget the terrific match that propelled Osaka into the top 10 rankings and solidified her position among the elite club of grand slam champions.
Osaka lost her moment of triumph. Maybe it’s Serena Williams who should be doing the apologizing.