Sorry, Serena, But An Umpire Enforcing The Rules Is Not Sexism

Not for the first time in her career, Serena Williams is blatantly wrong.

The dominant player of her age and winner of 23 Grand Slams blew up overnight in losing the US Open final to US-based Japanese world number seven Naomi Osaka.

And by so doing, she blew up an enormous amount of the public goodwill she’s earned over the years.

This all started off with umpiring calls pertaining to alleged coaching from the stands which Williams didn’t like (but to which her coach later admitted).

And it ended up with Williams playing the sexism card.

First rule of modern life: nobody ever won an argument playing an “ism” card. Even when a form of “ism” demonstrably happened, these terms have become ineffectual and meaningless.

Second rule of modern life: if you’re really going to insist on using an “ism”, be sure as hell that it applies. In this case, it most certainly did not.

Here’s what actually happened.

Osaka won the first set easily. In the second game of the second set, umpire Carlos Ramos issued a warning to Williams after he spied a gesture from her coach Patrick Mouratoglou which looked very much like coaching -- which you’re not allowed to do.

Clearly not amused, Williams responded: “I don’t cheat to win, I’d rather lose’.

Things seemed to settle down until Williams lost the fifth game of the set and smashed her racquet into the sort of crumpled wreck that must be piled 100 high in Nick Kyrgios’ backyard.

Image: Getty.

That made two code violations and umpire Carlos Ramos had no choice but to penalise her a point in the following game. Williams called the ump a “thief”. Not smart. That made three violations and the obligatory game penalty.

Suddenly, Osaka was serving for the match. As this dawned on Williams, her outrage reached a McEnroe-like crescendo. That’s when the claims of sexism kicked in.

“Because I’m a woman, you’re going to take this away from me?” she screamed, half in tears, half in rage, half in disbelief (the author is well aware that three halves make more than a whole but, hey, poetic license).

This was where Williams went off the rails. An umpire enforcing the rules is not sexism. There were two players out there. Both were women. Officiating in favour of one woman over another is by its very definition NOT SEXISM.

On court and later in press conferences, Williams tried to make the point that men are treated much less harshly by officials.

But this, too, was beside the very obvious point that she had been punished according to the rule book.

Serena Williams is the greatest sportswoman of our time, and perhaps the greatest sportsperson, full stop.

While people argue over Nadal versus Federer being the greatest tennis player with their 20 and 17 men’s Grand Slam titles respectively, Serena towers above them both with 23 – so dominant that the question of “who has been her greatest rival?” is as irrelevant as it is unanswerable.

Along the way, Serena has unquestionably suffered instances of racism and sexism. But especially in recent years, the entire sporting world has gotten around her, cherished her, championed her, lionised her, celebrated her personal and sporting struggles and successes with her.

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"Do you think they'll let me wear this at the US Open?" "No, Sis. No I don't." Image: Getty.

When the stuffy old president of the French Tennis Federation objected to the catsuit at this year’s French Open, the whole civilised world rightly told him to go stick the pointy end of a croissant where it fits.

Tennis is not perfect when it comes to issues of gender equality. It took until 2007 to finally get equal prizemoney for men and women in all four Slams.

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Even this week, there was the controversy over French player Alizé Cornet copping a code violation for changing the shirt she put on back-to-front and briefly exposing – GASP! – her sports bra to the crowd. The world rightly retorted with images of shirtless Novak Djokovic lounging back in his courtside chair.

But what happened at the US Open overnight was not about sexism and it was not tennis’ fault. It was a massive double fault by Serena Williams herself, who claimed to be “fighting for women's rights and for women's equality” but who, in reality, was engaging in the sort of umpire-abuse she’s been penalised for in the past.

In 2009, Williams told a US Open official: "I swear to God, I'll f---ing take the ball and shove it down your f---ing throat”.

She was no more a victim of sexism on that day as she is today.

Main image: Getty.