Naomi Osaka Wins US Open but When Sexism Wins, Everyone Loses
Naomi Osaka defeated Serena Williams, 6-2 6-4, in a tumultuous match to become Japan’s very first Grand Slam singles champion.
A man or woman of Japanese citizenship had not produced a singles champion from the country until Osaka, so this was an incredible feat for the 20-year-old tennis player. This is a rich story-line of a young woman of Japanese and Haitian descent. Yes, Osaka is equal part Haitian. Osaka did whatever it took to get to that moment where she would face her tennis idol in Serena Williams, and it became nothing more than a footnote, as a questionable call from Portuguese chair umpire Carlos Ramos cast a dark cloud over the entire event.
It is very telling in the video footage and photos that captured Osaka’s uncomfortable moments on the podium that her victory was, and is, tainted.
Osaka flat-out bested Williams in the first match.
Ramos, a chair umpire with a reputation of being strict, noticed Patrick Mouratoglou, coach of Williams, making a hand gesture that he assumed was “coaching.” Ramos called a code violation which is essentially a formal warning, as coaching is not allowed during matches. Though his interpretation of the gesture qualifies a violation being called, a formal warning was unnecessary considering he could have easily given an informal warning so Williams would have had an opportunity to tell her coach to resist the temptation to coach.
Mouratoglou admitted, “I am honest. I was coaching…I don’t think she [Serena] looked one time.” He went on to explain that all coaches do it; even Osaka’s coach Sascha Bajin was doing the same.
The difference is, Serena Williams has always had a target on her back, simply because. No athlete has had to endure more drugs tests and scrutiny than Williams. The target on her has clear undertones of racism because of the disbelief of her athletic superiority and talent. The way that Williams has been challenged, even in how she presents herself, has undertones of sexism and racism as new ways of policing her body are introduced every year. However, this time, the stakes were too high. Williams fought too hard to be in this final and she refused to take the insults lying down.
Williams walked up to the umpire chair and told Ramos, “One thing I’ve never done is cheat, ever….”
Williams went on to say, “I don’t cheat to win; I’d rather lose. I’m just letting you know.”
During the second set, things started turning around for Williams but a backhand into the net led to an error on Williams’ part and an opportunity for Osaka to regain control of the match.
Williams, frustrated, threw down her racket and it broke. When Ramos announced the score, he also added, “Code violation, racket abuse, point penalty, Mrs. Williams.”
This is where things took a turn. Williams was under the impression that the coaching violation had been cleared up but discovered after the racket violation that the coaching violation had not been revoked.
She told Ramos, “You owe me an apology. I have never cheated in my life. I have a daughter and I stand for what’s right for her and I have never cheated. You owe me an apology.”
During the second set, Osaka continued to play impressively and Williams continued to converse with Ramos. “For you to attack my character, then something is wrong,” Williams went on to say. “It’s wrong. You are attacking my character.”
Then she pointed at him and said, “You are the liar. When are you going to give me my apology. You owe me an apology. Say it! Say you’re sorry.”
“How dare you insinuate that I was cheating?”
As Williams got up to return to the court, she exclaimed to Ramos, “And you stole a point from me. You’re a thief, too.”
Ramos then issued the third code violation, “code violation, verbal abuse. Game penalty, Mrs. Williams.”
This of course resulted in a penalty of a lost game.
“Are you kidding me? Because I called you a thief?” she said. “But you stole a point from me.”
That was when Williams asked to speak to a referee and discussed the blatant bias that was occurring.
“Do you know how many other men do things that are — that do much worse than that?” she said to Grand Slam supervisor, Donna Kelso. “This is not fair. There’s a lot of men out here that have said a lot of things, but if they’re men, that doesn’t happen to them.”
This is a fact. There is a clear double-standard. Breaking a racket is nothing new. When men express their frustrations in sports it’s considered being passionate. When women express their frustration during sports, it’s labeled as aggression, a meltdown or an outburst.
The last thing Williams said before returning to the court was, “It’s not fair. That’s all I have to say.”
Osaka, though confused as to what was going on, finished her serve and became a champion.
In what should have been the best moment of her career, her raised fist was met with a stadium full of boos. Osaka lowered her fist and her visor to cover her tear-filled eyes as she walked off the court.
During the ceremony, the fans unleashed more booing and Osaka pulled her visor down again to hide the tears streaming down her face. Williams, in the face of a controversial defeat and an attack on her integrity and character, wiped away her own tears and walked over to Osaka to comfort her by wrapping her arm around her and saying something to make her smile.
Osaka’s acceptance speech was as somber as the ceremony itself, “I know that everyone was cheering for her [Serena]. I’m sorry it had to end like this. I just want to say thank you for watching the match.”
Williams politely declined answering questions when the microphone was turned to her and instead implored the crowd to stop booing and acknowledge Osaka’s accomplishment.
When the powers-that-be off of the court determine the outcome of the game, everybody loses. Four-time US Open champion Billie Jean King echoed this sentiment in a piece she wrote for The Washington Post, “He made himself part of the match. He involved himself in the end result. An umpire’s job is to keep control of the match, and he let it get out of control. The rules are what they are, but the umpire has discretion, and Ramos chose to give Williams very little latitude in a match where the stakes were highest.”
Finally, Serena was fined $17,000 for her trio of violations. Sadly that was not the greatest cost endured that night. Williams is the greatest athlete of our time and when people play her, they play the best they’ve ever played. That is what Osaka was doing. Osaka was also robbed of a moment she waited for her entire life, a moment she was prepared for and was well on the way of seizing when sexism and racism cast a cloud over her moment.
The U.S. Tennis Association and the Women’s Tennis Association have both released statements that back Williams in calling out a clear “difference in the standards of tolerance” by officials. Let’s see what comes of Williams taking a stand for herself and women athletes that will come after her.