“You owe me an apology,” superstar tennis player Serena Williams told the chair umpire, Carlos Ramos, during the US Open finals on Saturday.
The argument between the two over code violations escalated and resulted in a penalty point and game against Williams, sparking controversy and debate over sexism in the sport.
Among the violations called against Williams was one for “verbal abuse” after Williams called Ramos a “thief,” but as the 23-time Grand Slam champion was quick to point out during her match, male players have said far worse and barely received a slap on the wrist.
“There are men out here that have said a lot things and because they are men that doesn’t happen to them,” Williams told one official, referring to the severe penalty against her. “Because I’m a woman, you’re going to take this away from me? That is not right,” she added.
Serena Williams after getting penalized because she called judge a "thief" "There;s a a lot of men who have said things and because they are men nothing happens to them"....pic.twitter.com/Vr9WTspqFw— gifdsports (@gifdsports) September 8, 2018
Several of her male peers agreed.
I’ve regrettably said worse and I’ve never gotten a game penalty— andyroddick (@andyroddick) September 9, 2018
I will admit I have said worse and not gotten penalized. And I’ve also been given a “soft warning” by the ump where they tell you knock it off or I will have to give you a violation. He should have at least given her that courtesy. Sad to mar a well played final that way. https://t.co/xhBzFZX8Wq— James Blake (@JRBlake) September 9, 2018
In a post-game interview on Sunday, Novak Djokovic said he felt that “the chair umpire should not have pushed Serena to the limit … It was, in my opinion, maybe unnecessary.” Djokovic added that the call changed the course of the match, though he also empathized with Ramos over the “awkward situation.”
The Women’s Tennis Association (WTA) also came to Williams’ defense.
"The WTA believes that there should be no difference in the standards of tolerance provided to the emotions expressed by men versus women," WTA chief executive Steve Simon said in a statement on Sunday. "We do not believe that this was done last night [during the final]."
In addition to the game-changing penalties, Williams was hit with a $17,000 fine over the violations, the Washington Post reported.
During the match, Williams stood her ground against Ramos.
“I have never cheated in my life. I have a daughter and I stand [for] what’s right for her, and I’ve never cheated,” she told him, insisting on apology.
And though Williams was understandably emotional, she remained strong and composed under pressure. Yet the sexism she faced on the court has also seeped into media coverage of the argument between the Olympian and the chair umpire.
Media outlets called her refusal to back down as a “meltdown” and described the champion as “hysterical,” whereas male athletes are rarely described in such terms after similar game disputes.
I guess sometimes it’s a meltdown and other times it’s just arguing a strike 🤷🏻♂️ pic.twitter.com/I3ZyxBMzGT— Josh Billinson (@jbillinson) September 8, 2018
With tennis season in full swing, gender inequality in the sport has been a hot subject of debate recently.
French tennis player Alizé Cornet was issued a warning for briefly taking her shirt off, which many male tennis players do, after realizing it was on backwards at the US Open during an Aug. 29 match.
And Williams found herself at the center of another debate over sexism in her sport during the French Open in August after she was chastised for wearing a catsuit to her match. Williams has been open about her health struggles during and after the birth of her daughter, including blood clots and the catsuit aided her blood circulation. However, the catsuit was considered a dress code violation by the French Open, sparking a fierce debate over sexist dress code policies in tennis.
The controversy overshadowed the outcome of the match in which rising star 20-year-old Naomi Osaka won her first Grand Slam title in a bittersweet match against her childhood idol — both women left the match in tears.
“Osaka’s stellar play was overshadowed by an archaic tennis rule that eventually led to an abuse of power,” Billie Jean King, a trailblazing female tennis player, wrote in an op-ed for the Washington Post. King goes on to criticize the rules of tennis for enabling power abuses that perpetuate gender and racial discrimination in the game.
“Women are treated differently in most arenas of life. This is especially true for women of color. And what played out on the court yesterday happens far too often … Ultimately, a woman was penalized for standing up for herself,” King wrote. “I hope every single girl and woman watching yesterday’s match realizes they should always stand up for themselves and for what they believe is right. Nothing will ever change if they don’t.”
For her part, Williams will certainly continue fighting for what she believes in.
“I’m here fighting for women’s rights and for women’s equality and for all kinds of stuff. For me to say ‘thief’ and for him to take a game, it made me feel like it was a sexist remark,” Williams said in an interview on Saturday. “It blows my mind, but I’m going to continue to fight for women and to fight for us to have equal coordination … The fact that I have to go through this is just an example for the next person that has emotions and that want to express themselves and they want to be a strong woman. They’re going to be allowed to do that because of today.
“Maybe it didn’t work out for me, but it’s going to work out for the next person,” she added.