It was the game that was heard around the world. With the #serena and #usopen trending across Twitter, and countless articles being posted on Facebook, everyone, including tennis greats like John Mcenroe and Billie Jean King seemed to be vocalizing their opinions.
Before you read any further on my own, personal perspective, however, I urge you to develop one of your own:
Here is the video that shows the "highlights" from the match, namely the ones that showed William's dispute with the umpire (via ESPN, liberal).
Here is an article that states that Serena's coach was directing her from the sidelines (via The South African, independent).
Here is an article that sums up opinions from past pro tennis players, both in support and in opposition. (via The Irish Examiner, independent).
Now that you've found your own take on what happened, hear me out on why I believe that Serena William's actions in this year's US Open final are not fully justified by the explanation of sexism and racism.
The chain of events that lead to the controversial conclusion began when the umpire, Carlos Ramos (a famous stickler for rules, with previous altercations with Rafael Nadal, and Serena's sister, Venus Williams) issued a "code violation" to Williams for a hand gesture her coach, Patrick Mouratoglou, had directed to her. Williams stated that she had not seen the gesture, and although Mouratoglou later admitted to coaching, he also mentioned that he did not think that she had seen it.
Serena, later on in the match, seemingly frustrated by the effort that Naomi Osaka was putting forward, smashed her racket, resulting in another code violation. Because this was her second one, this resulted in a point penalty. Williams, visibly upset by this, later engages in a heated exchange with umpire Carlos Ramos, resulting in a third violation and the forfeiting of a game (going from 4-3 to 5-3, Osaka).
Tennis, like any other sport, has its rules. Sure, you might not agree with them, and that's fine. But express your opinions off the court. In the case of this matchup, William's outspoken behavior resulted in a visibly distraught Naomi Osaka (whose idol was Williams and was booed by the audience for her win), and an inefficient and inappropriate handling by Katrina Adams who is the chairman and president of the USTA.
Following the argument that men frequently exhibit more outbursts, but are penalized less (which, in the terms of this U.S. Open, was simply not true as-"86 code violations of all sorts were given to men, compared with 22 for women.") should we really be encouraging women to celebrate such behavior? I understand the need for equality, and have been exposed to instances where sex was the deciding factor in a decision, rather than personal qualification and merit, but in the terms of sportsmanship and positive conduct, shouldn't we be advocating for taking the higher road instead?
A popular comparison between Serena William's actions this weekend is with the tennis legend John Mcenroe. He was famous for his court outbreaks and had many violations and penalties directed at him in his time. Although he is still considered a tennis great, Mcenroe has been the source for many controversies: even one directed at Williams. Mcenroe was known for being racist, crass, and seemingly uneducated on the field. This reputation has continued to follow him throughout the years, and he has even apologized and expressed remorse at his conduct in his younger years.
Serena William's is considered a role model for many. She is a tennis legend and will continue to inspire generations to come. However, all actions come with a reaction- and in her case, a distinctly unsportsmanlike meltdown and the unjust redirection of hate and opposition towards Naomi Osaka (whether intended or not) should have come with a reaction: a moment of introspection and realization that her actions may have done more hurt than good, and that perhaps a more conductive way of expressing her thoughts on the way tennis should change would have been off of the court, rather than on.
In the end, I believe that this was not a matter of sexism or racism. The tennis world is incredibly diverse and filled with all sorts of people from different backgrounds and heritage. I believe that this, instead, may have been a problem of antiquated rules within tennis that can change in the years to come.
In any case, congratulations to Naomi Osaka for her brilliant win and the start of a great and empowering career. And congratulations to Serena Williams, nonetheless, for coming this far in her field and being such a pioneer for generations to come.