SALT LAKE CITY — A lot of people have been working very hard the last few days to defend the indefensible behavior of Serena Williams, the tennis star who threw a childish tantrum at the U.S. Open (again) and was penalized (again).
The Atlantic: “Serena Williams' U.S. Open loss was humiliating — but not for her.”
Slate Magazine: “(Umpire) Carlos and Serena Williams are both to blame for the ugly U.S. Open final.”
Washington Post: “Serena Williams was blamed for defending herself; that’s nothing new for black women.”
Independent: “The furor over Serena Williams exposes double standards …”
The Undefeated: “Serena Williams deserves share of blame for her actions.”
Where were these guys when John McEnroe and Ilie Nastase played? Wow, they pulled both the race card and the sexism card.
It’s not that complicated. None of the above should be part of the conversation. Williams desperately reached for excuses to justify behavior that was nothing more than bad sportsmanship, and the media took the bait and swallowed it.
Never mind that Williams has a long history of abusive behavior at the Open. Never mind that she hijacked what would have been a joyous moment from the 20-year-old champion who beat her. If Williams had been a child, her parents would have sent her to her room.
Maybe Williams and her defenders were simply upset that Naomi Osaka ruined the party for Williams, who was/is one win away from a record-tying 24th Grand Slam win. Instead, the kid beat her 6-2, 6-4, just as she did earlier in the year. But not before things got ugly and turned a tennis match into something else.
It began when Williams received a warning for receiving help from her coach in the stands and she couldn’t let it go. It continued a few games later when she slammed her racket to the court and shattered it. It imploded when she went off on the chair umpire, earning a third warning and a game penalty. That was when she started reaching.
“There are men out here that do a lot worse,” she said to the umpire, “but because I’m a woman, because I’m a woman, you’re going to take this away from me? That is not right.”
“For you to attack my character is something that’s wrong,” Williams said during a changeover, referring to the coaching penalty. “It’s wrong. You’re attacking my character. Yes, you are. You owe me an apology. You will never, ever, ever be on another court of mine as long as you live. You are the liar.”
Finally, she said, “You stole a point from me, you’re a thief, too.”
It was not a good look. It was embarrassing.
(By the way — and not that it really matters — here are the totals for the 2018 U.S. Open code violations and penalties: men 86, women 22.)
The pro-Williams crowd booed during the award presentation. Osaka looked stricken. She covered her face and wiped away tears. With great irony, U.S. Tennis Association President Katrina Adams called Williams a role model. Later Williams would be praised for comforting Osaka, which was absurd. First, she creates the poisonous atmosphere and then she gets credit for defusing it?
Williams doubled down later when she said, “That I have to go through this is just an example for the next person that has emotions, and that wants to express themselves, and wants to be a strong woman. They’re going to be allowed to do that because of today.”
They’re going to be allowed to do what, act like a bully? Exhibit poor sportsmanship? Abuse umpires? What?
Very few got it right in the days that followed (Billie Jean King and Chris Evert took Williams’ side). Fortunately, Martina Navratilova and Mary Carillo weren’t buying what Williams was selling. “I don’t believe it’s a good idea to apply a standard of ‘If men can get away with it, women should be able to, too,’” Navratilova wrote in a New York Times editorial. “Rather, I think the question we have to ask ourselves is this: What is the right way to behave to honor our sport and to respect our opponents?” Carillo told MSNBC that Williams occasionally “acts like a bully” and said she succumbed to the pressure of trying to tie the record; she continued that Williams should know that the rules of tennis mandated her punishment and that she was sad she wound up “poisoning the atmosphere” for Osaka.
This was not a one-time meltdown for Williams. Here is her history at the U.S. Open.35 comments on this story
- 2004 semifinals. Williams confronted the chair umpire about a bad line call (replays showed she was right), but it was tame compared to what was to come.
- 2009 semifinals. Called for a foot fault, Williams, who had already been warned for racket abuse, confronted tiny lineswoman Shino Tsurubuchi, pointing and shouting at her. “I swear I’m going to take this ball and shove it down your ---- throat!” The line judge reported it to the chair umpire, who assessed a match-ending penalty point. Williams was fined a record $82,500 and was suspended from the Open. Her excuse at the time — “There’s a lot of people who say way worse” — sounds like her excuse last weekend. She said she had no regrets about losing her temper.
- 2011 finals. Williams hit a forehand and then yelled “Come on!” just as her opponent reached for a backhand. The umpire ruled that this hindered her opponent and awarded the point to her opponent. Williams leveled several insults at the umpire, who gave her a code violation for verbal abuse. “You’re a hater, and you’re just unattractive inside,” she told the umpire. She was fined $2,000.
- 2018 finals. Williams smashed her racket, called the umpire a thief and was penalized a game. She was fined $17,000.
It is relevant to note that she lost all four of those matches. Next time she would do well to focus on her game.