As both champion Naomi Osaka and runner-up Serena Williams stood with tears streaming down their faces at the end of the women’s U.S. Open final on Saturday, boos rang out from the crowd, where many felt that a chair umpire’s call had marred the match.
The reactions came after chair umpire Carlos Ramos gave Williams a warning for allegedly receiving coaching and later a point penalty over her smashing a racket. Williams then accused Ramos of stealing the point from her, calling him a “thief,” resulting in a whole game penalty for verbal abuse.
The penalties — and whether they were justified — sparked debate over whether women in the sport face a double standard.
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After the game, which ended what would have been a record-tying 24th Grand Slam title for Williams, she told officials the calls were sexist.
“There’s men out here who do a lot worse,” she said. “But because I’m a woman, because I’m a woman, you’re going to take this away from me? That is not right and you know it.”
Osaka finished with a 6-2, 6-4 victory, making her the first player from Japan to win a Grand Slam singles title. The win also came with jeers, though Williams asked the crowd to stop booing and support Osaka.
Dunja Antunovic, an assistant professor of sports communication who has studied gender in sports, said that this latest incident continues to build on an ongoing dialogue.
"What’s new recently in the last couple of years is that there has been a lot of conversation about these instances and the critique of how some of these situations are gendered," Antunovic said.
That view was expressed by many on social media on Saturday night and Sunday morning. Former and current tennis players weighed in on the chair umpire’s decision, with some agreeing with Williams’ assessment and claiming they’ve said worse and not been penalized as harshly.
I will admit I have said worse and not gotten penalized. And I’ve also been given a “soft warning” by the ump where they tell you knock it off or I will have to give you a violation. He should have at least given her that courtesy. Sad to mar a well played final that way. https://t.co/xhBzFZX8Wq
Emotional first take by me. common sense should’ve prevailed in my opinion. He’s within his power to make that call. I’ve seen an umpire borderline coach a player up,and another dock a game for being called a thief in same tourney. There needs to be some continuity in the future https://t.co/T5oI1M0Cu7
Roddick, a former world No. 1 professional tennis player, also said that he's "regrettably said worse and I've never gotten a game penalty."
Williams' coach, meanwhile, said that the umpire had made himself "the star of the show" at the final, usurping the athletes so many had come to watch.
The star of the show has been once again the chair umpire. Second time in this US Open and third time for Serena in a US Open Final. Should they be allowed have an influence on the result of a match ? When do we decide that this should never happen again ?
Billie Jean King, a former World No. 1 professional tennis player and namesake of the stadium hosting the U.S. Open, came to Williams' defense as well, stating there is a double standard in how women are depicted and considered in sports — especially when they are outspoken.
(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.
Antunovic said that this gendered dichotomy can be seen in the modern American workplace.
"Women are described as emotional and not as tough or prepared to deal with tough matches," she said. "There has been some evidence that the commentary and the way we interpret women’s behavior in sports tends to be different than men. That’s also how women’s behavior is interpreted in the workplace. What’s seen as disruptive for a women is seen as leadership for a man."