I hoped to write about Serena Williams winning her long-awaited 24th singles Slam title. But that didn’t happen – she was beaten by Naomi Osaka, a young woman who plays a lot like a younger version of Serena. If Osaka’s victory had been a straight-forward win, of course it would have been notable and widely discussed. But as it turns out, the actual tennis match was not what people will remember. They’ll remember the name Carlos Ramos, who was the umpire on the match. He gave Serena her first violation (a warning) because Serena’s coach Patrick Mouratoglou was “coaching” her from the box. WTA players can have on-court coaching during WTA events but not during Slams. Patrick was making a motion to Serena to tell her to move in to net, and Carlos Ramos saw Patrick do that. What no one is sure about is whether Serena actually saw or understood Patrick’s coaching. Which is why she reacted this way to the first warning:
"I don't cheat to win. I'd rather lose."
—Serena to the chair umpire after receiving a coaching violation pic.twitter.com/v6Q2GWYYOn
— espnW (@espnW) September 8, 2018
I think Serena is saying that she saw Patrick give her a thumbs up, and considering the distance from where she was standing to her box, that’s a possibility. And Serena’s argument was that a thumbs-up is not coaching. Except he was. This was Patrick’s coaching:
— Ashish TV Slams (@ashishtvslams) September 8, 2018
After the match, Patrick admitted that he was coaching and that ALL coaches coach their players during Slams and he even name-checked certain players, like Rafa Nadal:
Serena's coach says that a penalty for coaching during play is hypocritical because every coach does it. pic.twitter.com/AvU3TnKUIH
— ESPN (@espn) September 8, 2018
But, as I said, there was no point violation or anything there, it was just a warning. Then after Serena dropped the first set, she broke her racquet. Second violation. It comes with a point penalty. After that, Serena got really angry and she argued with Carlos Ramos even more and she invoked her daughter and said that of course she wouldn’t cheat, because she was still caught up in the fact that he gave her the first warning for coaching. In her mind, the racquet break should have been her first violation.
She was still mad about it during a second set changeover, where she and Carlos Ramos argued. She called him a “liar” and a “thief” for the point penalty. And that’s when he gave her a third violation for “verbal abuse” and a GAME penalty, meaning the match was almost over. Serena completely lost her cool then – she was crying, she called for the supervisor, and here’s part of what happened:
Serena Williams: "There's a lot of men out here that have said a lot of things and because they're a man, that doesn't happen to them." (via ESPN) pic.twitter.com/9MqhnAja20
— Kyle Griffin (@kylegriffin1) September 8, 2018
This is where I was completely behind Serena – you can argue the finer points of coaching and all of that, but to be given a “verbal abuse” code violation for merely venting – in perhaps justifiable anger – that the umpire is a “thief” is NOT VERBAL ABUSE. Serena is absolutely right when she said it was sexism and that men are allowed to get away with saying a lot worse on-court without getting any violations. She didn’t use profanity, she didn’t call him an obscene name. She called him a thief because he gave her a point violation which she did not think it was fair.
So from there, everything was a blur of absolute shambles. Few people in the crowd understood what was happening. Osaka won the match in the next few minutes and people booed her (this poor girl). Serena gave her a big hug and then Serena refused to shake hands with Carlos Ramos, telling him again that he needed to apologize to her.
The trophy presentation was rough too. The crowd was still booing, Osaka started crying and Serena put her arm around Osaka to comfort her. Serena was in tears too.
Serena comforted an emotional Naomi Osaka after losing in the US Open 😥 pic.twitter.com/oCLTRn66cW
— espnW (@espnW) September 8, 2018
Photos courtesy of Getty.