Exceptional Athlete and Sore Loser

On Saturday, September 8, 2018, tennis superstar Serena Williams and underdog Naomi Osaka faced off in what would become the most controversial and talked about U.S. Open Women’s Singles finals in recent history.

The first set of the match went relatively smoothly, with Osaka breaking Williams’s serve twice to win the set 6-2. In the second set, Umpire Carlos Ramos called a code violation on Williams for receiving coaching during the match. This violation was Williams’ first formal warning. After the call, Williams approached Ramos and said, “I don’t cheat to win, I’d rather lose. I’m just letting you know.” Ramos responded and said, “I know that,” which caused Williams to think the call was rescinded.

At the end of the second set, Williams lost a crucial point, causing her to throw her racket down on the court in frustration, breaking it. This was Williams’s second court violation. A second court violation results in a point penalty. However, Williams was confused as to why she was receiving a point penalty, as she did not think the first warning counted. She approached Ramos, demanding an apology, calling him a thief and a sexist. This conduct resulted in a game penalty (the automatic loss of one game). 

Although I love to watch Serena Williams play, and I applaud what she has done for women and people of color by using her success to promote equality, I did not like what I saw during her match with Osaka. Although no one but Serena can know for sure, I believe that she used the umpire’s reaction to shift attention away from the fact that she was, quite frankly, getting thrashed by an unheard-of 20 year-old rookie.

I believe that her loss in the first set of her match with Osaka put Williams under great mental stress. And her outburst to the umpire unfairly reframed the story of the match from poor performance to the issue of whether she was cheated out of another Grand Slam Title due to bias.

This incident reminds me of the case of Suzy Hamilton, who was favored to win a gold medal in track in the 2000 Summer Olympics, but faked an injury when she saw she was not going to finish first. The original call against Serena was unjust, but I believe she then used the controversy to draw the public’s eye away from the score of the first set by continually attacking the umpire.

At the end of the match, despite losing badly, Serena came out as the hero. Her fans jeered as Osaka received her trophy, when instead, Osaka should have been celebrated.