A series of unfortunate events occurred in the U.S. Open women’s final, which can only be summarised in one simple sentence: please stop blaming umpire Carlos Ramos for applying the rules.
First offence: warning for coaching
The first of the warnings incurred by Serena Williams is one for coaching.
True, she is not the one who coached, and she likely did not see the gesture made by Patrick Mouratoglou. However, this is the application of the rule book, which should have a warning as a consequence, as it was a first infraction. Ramos is not to blame for being one of the minority of umpires who systematically gives such warnings. He has given some to other top players, including (but not limited to) Rafael Nadal. Each coaching warning received by Nadal was often received with a complaint by the player, but always followed by a message to his coach (then Toni Nadal) to stop talking and coaching. A fine would normally and logically be given to the player, who paid it.
Had Williams stopped there, nothing else would have happened.
Second offence: racquet abuse
The second offence occurred when Williams intentionally broke her racquet after having been broken back by Osaka midway through the second set.
This warning is automatic for every player. There, Ramos issued a point penalty, as this was the American’s second warning of the match.
Third offence: verbal abuse towards the umpire
After Naomi Osaka secured her second break of the set to go up a break and 4-3 up, Williams continued her diatribe towards umpire Ramos and started calling him “a thief” and telling him that he “owed [her] an apology”. Repeatedly.
This is another breach of the code of conduct: verbal abuse.
In this instance, Carlos Ramos had no choice but to apply the rule, for a simple reason: the microphones picked up the entirety of Williams’s diatribe, and her comments directly questioned his integrity as an official. She also entered dangerous territory when she expressed the feeling that had she been a male player, it would not have happened, thus again questioning the integrity of the umpire.
Was Carlos Ramos wrong?
That question is the one that comes to mind when we look at the events, especially with regards to the first warning, the one for coaching.
The problem, in this case, comes from the very visible way Mouratoglou was gesturing to Williams.
Whether she has seen the signs or not, in this instance, is preposterous. Her coach did it, and even owned up to it after the match, several times and to several media. Nevertheless, he would have been better to stop talking and tweeting afterwards.
Maybe Ramos should have issued a soft warning first. However, it was also for Williams to swallow the pill and get on with her match. Easier said than done, but feasible.
Regardless, Carlos Ramos was not wrong in applying the rules.
Umpires should take a long, hard look in the mirror
This problem stems from the inconsistency of the umpires in general. Ramos is one of the few who apply the rules to the letter, when those who don’t should be the exception.
The incidents that have occurred in the U.S. Open final should, without a doubt, serve as a catalyst for all the umpires to take a long, hard look in the mirror with regards to the application of the tennis code of conduct, and start acting with the consistency expected and required from their office.
Not a first for Williams
Another point that should come to mind is that what happened in the women’s final was not the first time that Serena Williams completely lost it against an official at the U.S. Open.
In 2009, she violently took it out verbally on both the chair umpire (Louise Engzell) and the linesperson (whom she threatened to “shove that f***ing ball down [her] f***ing throat”) for a foot fault in the semifinal match between her and Kim Clijsters, an outburst which deservedly got her disqualified.
Two years later, in the final against Samantha Stosur, she called umpire Eva Azderaki “ugly on the inside” and told her to “look the other way” if she ever sees her.
Against Osaka, it may seem mild in comparison. However, playing the gender card as she did was not a good way to make things move forward as far as this particular part of the issue is concerned. The warnings given her by Ramos were an exact application of the rules, which she should know.
Since the events, everyone and their mother had had a take on what happened, which led to a lot of misinformation being shared, often by people who have a strong social media followers count.
This led, leads, and will continue to lead to dangerous precedents. First from the player’s fan base, not known for being the classiest of tennis. Second, from the casual viewers who know nothing of the rules of tennis and are wont to go with the headlines and nothing else. Third, from the tennis community who are blinded by Williams’s records and on-court pedigree of impressive numbers, most of which not seeming to know the rules, either.
The best take, however, is that of former chair umpire Richard Ings, who penned a composed and knowledgeable analysis of what happened, from someone who has been there, once upon a time. A must read.
The weird statement of the USTA president
After this year’s final’s incident, the U.S. Open released the weirdest statement from the president of the USTA, Katrina Adams.
In this statement, never has Adams had words for the champion, Naomi Osaka. Furthermore, she threw more fuel to the fire against umpire Carlos Ramos by virtually excusing Serena Williams for her outburst and abuse.
An awkward thing to publish.
Early on Sunday afternoon, it was announced that Serena Williams has received a grand total of $17,000 of fines:
- $4,000 for coaching;
- $3,000 for racquet abuse;
- $10,000 for verbal abuse.
A good way for the ITF (who are the ones responsible for imposing such fines) to back Carlos Ramos in his decision of… applying the rules.