Serena’s anger sparks row over sexism in tennis

Struck down: Williams was fined $17,000 for her three code violations.

Is Serena Williams a bad loser? Saturday’s US Open final descended into chaos after Williams launched a verbal tirade against the umpire. Tennis authorities have backed her claims of sexism.

It was the final of the US Open. Naomi Osaka of Japan, the 20th seed, was on her way to one of the most unlikely victories in modern tennis history. But it was an outburst from her opponent, Serena Williams, the greatest female tennis player ever, that stole the headlines.

The controversy started when Williams’s coach, Patrick Mouratoglou, made a hand gesture towards her early in the second set. Grand Slam rules ban “communication of any kind” between a player and their coach.

Williams was furious. She said “I don’t cheat to win, I’d rather lose,” and demanded an apology from Carlos Ramos, the chair umpire. Her coach later admitted to coaching but said he believed that Williams had not seen the gesture.

Three games later, Williams was still boiling with rage. She smashed her racquet, and Ramos gave her another code violation.

Williams strode up to Ramos, shouting and pointing at him. The crowd started booing in support of the home favourite. At the next change of ends, Williams called Ramos a “liar”, telling him to apologise and describing him as a “thief”.

After the match, Williams accused Ramos of sexism. Yesterday, the Women’s Tennis Association (WTA) chief executive, Steve Simon, backed her up.

“The WTA believes that there should be no difference in the standards of tolerance provided to the emotions expressed by men versus women,” Simon said in a statement. “We do not believe that this was done last night.”

But many were appalled. Writing in The Spectator, Freddy Gray said she “behaved like a bad loser then pretended to be a victim of societal injustice to justify her bratty performance”, calling it “a pathetic and depressing spectacle.”

Female tennis players enjoy a status that their footballing or cricketing counterparts envy. But they are still paid less than male players.

Others respond that they play less tennis than men — and that, like it or not, the men’s game is simply more popular.

But even if Williams had a point, did she react in the right way?

Toys out of the pram

This was nothing more than a petulant temper tantrum, say some. It was a shocking example to set for her younger fans. Being a champion is about losing with grace. Her antics tarnished an incredible achievement by a young player who once looked up to her. As Gray writes, “Tennis is a sport that has rules. She broke them, was punished, and lost.”

Former tennis champion Billie Jean King disagrees. She tweeted: “When a woman is emotional, she’s ‘hysterical’ and she’s penalised for it. When a man does the same, he’s ‘outspoken’ and there are no repercussions.” This is a sexist double standard. And if it takes some rage to call it out, then so be it.

You Decide

  1. Is Serena Williams a role model?
  2. Is tennis sexist?


  1. Class debate: “This house would rather lose elegantly than win ugly.”
  2. Divide into pairs. One person plays Serena and gives a two-minute statement explaining her actions. The other plays Carlos Ramos and gives a two-minute response.

Some People Say...

“I am not a robot. I have a heart and I bleed.”

Serena Williams

What do you think?

Q & A

What do we know?
Female tennis players are paid less than men for winning competitions. However, some men’s games can last for five sets, whereas no women’s games last longer than three. Williams and others have said that umpires respond more harshly to female misbehaviour on court. But at this year’s US Open, 26 code violations were handed out to men, compared to just 10 to women.
What do we not know?
Whether Ramos was sexist in his treatment of Williams. He is known for being a relatively strict umpire, and many have pointed out that Williams’s opponent was also a woman and was not given any code violations. We also do not know whether female tennis players will ever earn as much as their male counterparts in the future.

Word Watch

Naomi Osaka
Osaka, who is of mixed Haitian and Japanese heritage, is the first player representing Japan to win a Grand Slam. She is only 20.
Patrick Mouratoglou
He later admitted he was trying to coach his player. But he said that he believed Williams had not seen the gesture.
Carlos Ramos
Other players, including Andy Murray, Venus Williams, Novak Djokovic, Rafael Nadal and Nick Kyrgios, have complained on court after being given code violations by Ramos.
Smashed her racquet
This is the most common cause of a code violation. Of the 36 violations issued at the US Open, 14 were given when players smashed their racquet in frustration.
Women’s Tennis Association
The WTA’s male equivalent is the ATP — the Association of Tennis Professionals.
Billie Jean King
King used her Hall of Fame career to advocate for equal rights for women in tennis. She won 12 Grand Slam singles titles and famously won the “Battle of the Sexes” in 1973 at the age of 29 against the 55-year-old Bobby Riggs.
For instance, John McEnroe is still widely popular for his outbursts on the tennis court in the 1980s.

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