Umpires and their decisions have been the topic of highly animated discussions of many sport fans as of late, especially those of international tennis and the Caribbean Premier League.
Last Saturday afternoon the decisions taken by the Chair Umpire Carlos Ramos in the Women’s final of the US Open contested by the very experienced American Serena Williams, and the rising 20-year-old Japanese star, Naomi Osaka, sparked a raging debate among tennis fans and a divided media.
Williams, seeking a record equalling 24th Grand Slam title, was having a bad day at the office, and it soon became apparent that her younger opponent was getting the better of her in the slug fest, having taken the first set, 6 – 2.
The problem began when Williams received a game conduct violation from Ramos, who considered a hand signal from Williams’ coach, Patrick Mouratoglou to be coaching, which is not allowed at any stage of a Grand Slam event, not even during the warm up routine. Williams vehemently denied that she was cheating.
It is important to note at this point, that Mouratoglou later admitted that he was coaching. “I was coaching but I don’t think she was looking at me. Sash [Osaka’s coach Sascha Bajin] was coaching as well. Everybody does it,” he acknowledged. ‘Everybody does it.’ Herein lies part of the problem, bending of rules and regulations, to suit whoever, whenever.
Down 3-2 in the second set, Williams then smashed her racquet, thus earning a second game conduct violation which automatically leads to a penalty point, according to the rules. Osaka thus began serving the next game at 15 – 0.
Now down 4 – 3, Williams refused to let the issue slide at the changeover and launched into a tirade, angrily pointing her finger in Ramos’ direction, calling him a liar, and even mooted the idea that she would ensure that he never umpired any of her matches again. Still on her high horse, Williams now demanded an apology. “When are you going to give an apology? Say you are sorry,” a very upset Williams ranted.
Williams had clearly crossed the line, questioning the integrity of the chair, and was quite rightly deducted a game. Osaka now led 5 -3, and the title was within her grasp. As her hometown American fans filled the Arthur Ashe (who, if he was still alive, would have probably buried his head in shame) Stadium with boos, Williams now refused to continue and demanded an intervention from the tournament referee.
Eventually, she returned to serve out the game to make it 5 -4. In all this incredible drama Osaka held her nerve and served out her next game to take the 2018 US Women’s Open.
The spin doctors in the US media and past American tennis players have been at work since Williams’ meltdown, claiming that the chair umpire snatched the title away from her at the crucial moment in the match and blaming him for not calming Williams down when she was blowing her fuse. Some of them, including former 12-time Grand Slam winner Billie Jean King have suggested that Ramos’ decisions were sexist and no man had ever received a game penalty and the chair would never have attempted to control a ranting player on the men’s circuit. Double standards they are yelling!!
Sure they can scream double standards. The problem is right there in the commentary box. When John McEnroe, the ultimate brat was raising the bar for temper tantrums in the 1980s, yelling and screaming at umpires to his heart’s content, no one applied the heavy hammer. Mention the subject of bad behaviour of tennis players and they are quick to trot out the name of the Romanian Ille Nastase.
Williams’ tantrum when she was down 4 – 3, should be viewed for what it was; a deliberate attempt to engage the chair umpire in a heated discussion to draw support from the home crowd. This most unsportsmanlike conduct was a final effort by the now desperate to unnerve Osaka, who refused to be intimidated by Williams’ record or reputation.
So who does Serena Williams really thinks she is? The ultimate gift to Women’s tennis? Demanding an apology? Refusing to play unless the tournament referee intervened? Quite frankly at that stage she should have been disqualified and the match awarded to Osaka.
This is not the first time Williams has lost control of her temper at the US Open. In the 2009 semi-finals, a line judge was the victim of a tirade, which left Williams on a two-year probation and in the 2011 final, it was the umpire who suffered her wrath. Coincidently, Williams lost both matches in straight sets.
Williams, arguably the greatest of all time women’s player seems to have completely forgotten that she is a role model for younger players and fans, and with all the accolades, the endorsements and the huge amounts of prize monies comes a responsibility to conduct herself in a certain manner. Williams will do well to take a page from Roger Federer’s book on conduct and fair play. Federer has lost ten Grand Slam finals and always conceded that he lost to the better player on the day.
Lost in all the brouhaha, is the emergence of a new star, Naomi Osaka, whose first grand Slam victory was marred by Williams and the crowd’s behaviour. A weeping Osaka was not allowed to savour what should have been the proudest moment of her tennis career.
Umpire Carlos Ramos, who was just doing his job and applying the rules, made the call as he saw it and must be given credit for doing so on the favourite’s home turf.
Former British tennis player Andrew Castle summed up the occasion in these words, “Not sure how any unbiased observer who knows the rules and history of tennis can look at what happened and defend Serena.”
Umpiring is not an easy job by any stretch of the imagination and when judgmental decisions are made they will always be those players and fans who will not agree with the calls. However, at the end of the day, no one, no one is bigger than the game, and respect is always due to the chair or the whistle.