On Saturday, September 8th, international tennis super-star, Serena Williams, took to the court for the women’s US Open final, squaring off against 20 year-old Naomi Osaka. Undoubtedly historic, the match, as well as its outcome, went on to make global headlines. Still, in case you have somehow avoided nearly all sources of information aside from this piece of writing, beware the forthcoming spoiler: Serena loses. What’s more, Osaka’s landmark victory, clinching the first ever Grand Slam singles title for Japan, went on to spark heated controversy across the country, pulling into its throes both tennis experts and know-nothings alike.
The Daily Campus: University of Connecticut sports editor, Stephanie Sheehan, recaps the events of Saturday’s game, going onto explain that the controversy “extends far beyond that final match.”
- Sheehan acknowledges that the events at the 2018 US Open are “extremely difficult to unpack,” but still gives readers the gist.
- Serena was issued a warning early on in the game, as chair umpire Carlos Ramos believed Serena was “accepting coaching during the match.” Serena was later docked a point for a show of frustration, slamming her racket at the end of a tense second set.
- “Confused by the score,” Serena went to confront Ramos; the ensuing debate “became more heated,” and after calling Ramos a thief for taking her point, Serena was “issued a code violation for verbal abuse, resulting in a game penalty, putting Osaka up 5-3.”
- “It’s a series of events filled with controversy and confusion,” Sheehan writes. Indeed, the infractions committed by Serena were valid, but Sheehan asks, “what tennis are we all watching where these rules are followed to a tee? Male players have said and done far worse to chair umpires and nothing happened. John McEnroe, Rafael Nadal and Jimmy Connors come to mind, among many others that were compiled in a lovely tweet thread.”
- Whereas many indicted Ramos, Sheehan states that he is merely “the mouthpiece for a larger issue—that tennis has a systematic problem with its tradition.” The discrepancies in treatment between women and men in the USTA are stark, “[holding] men to higher standards, acting as if women aren’t athletic enough to reach them.” These double standards served as a catalyst for Saturday’s outrage.
- In an op-ed published the day after the final, “tennis legend and pioneer for women’s rights Billie Jean King said, ‘If tennis would catch up with the 21st century and allow coaching on every point, the situation on the court would never have escalated to the level of absurdity that it did.’”
- Sheehan closes: “Whether you believe Serena was a victim of sexism or not, this much is clear: These rules are outdated and unfairly enforced, and Serena was caught up in a situation that was not her fault and should never have happened.”
The Wesleyan Argus: In neighboring Middletown, Connecticut, fellow sports columnists Ben Owen attempts to provide context and a deeper understanding for readers regarding the match, stating that it is “critically important to detail Serena’s remarkable achievements in a sport that she still isn’t fully welcomed in.”
- Owen sets the stage clearly, informing readers that “at 36, Serena only needs two more Grand Slam championships to be atop the all-time list and become the greatest champion in women’s tennis.” Owen begins with Serena’s age as he feels it to be an important testament to “how incredible she is.”
- “Almost always,” Owen writes, the greats of sport earn their title “when they have reached a certain age or have retired,” making example of football’s Tom “the GOAT” Brady, who is “ 41 and slow.” Or Barry Bonds, “the MLB home-run king,” who, at the time, “was also slow and way less entertaining to watch.”
- As a young woman in her profession, however, Serena “still electric,” making it important to “[eliminate] subjectivity about her legacy.” Serena, according to Owen, “has the most all-time singles match wins, but apparently that isn’t enough to gain the full respect of the international community at large.”
- The lack of respect to which Owen is referring, of course, is diffuse, but showed itself quite specifically (and viscerally) in an Australian cartoon illustrated shortly after the game. Whereas Williams was depicted as a temper-tantrum throwing baby, cartoonists and sports commentators allow players like Federer to “cry and roll around in the fetal position every time he wins a major championship, but won’t allow Serena to break her racket because she is furious at a poor decision by the chair umpire.”
- So is it any wonder she’s frustrated? The pro “has more Grand Slam titles than years registered as a World Tennis Association professional,” and she constantly “responds to inflated controversies and racially charged criticisms by winning again and again.” To speculate on this particular moment is to once more deny Williams the credit she has so clearly earned.
The Daily Orange: The impact of last weekend’s tennis match, however, reverberates well beyond the sport itself. beyond the scope of the sport. Lianza Reyes, a gender and sexuality columnist for a Syracuse news source, expounds upon the social repercussions of the event, claiming that “Serena Williams has a right to be angry, and so do [all humans].”
- Reyes jumps right in, making clear that Williams has constantly “been the victim of racist and sexist jokes.” “She is sexualized and fetishized for her athletic figure,” Reyes explains, “and she has notably been tested for drugs more than most tennis athlete.”
- Not only does the star-athlete deal with this behavior from fans and media outlets, but so too must she deal with it on the court. Williams was recently banned from wearing particular clothing at the French Open; and in her play, she “has been penalized before for minor incidents.”
- Ramos, as the umpire, has a responsibility “to control the game and should serve to not cause further controversy or emotional attack,” Reyes states. “Instead, he did the opposite.”
- Reyes goes on to quote a Vox article from 2017: “It’s as bogus as the rest of the labels she’s endured, but given the slights against her over the years, she has every right to be outraged.”
The Bottom Line:
Whether you grew up on the courts, hitting balls in diapers and rooting for your favorite tennis pros before you could even read, or you can't tell a tennis racket from a baseball bat, the events of this year's US Open begs the interest of all. It is an exemplification of systematic flaws within the World Tennis Association, double-standards constantly endured by Williams and several other female athletes, and the dangers of the angry black-woman stereotype. As Stephanie Sheehan writes, "Osaka simply out-played Williams the whole match and deserves all the praise, attention and recognition she can get." However, "this match will forever be mired by...the issue of sexism and double standards [that] arose."