Feeling under the weather today. Had trouble sleeping Saturday night. Just too keyed up. I thought I’d seen it all in sports. Olympic medalists raising clenched fists. Taunting and touchdown celebrations. Steroid use. Temper tantrums.
But Saturday night was a new low. Why? Because this time, deplorable behavior wasn’t restricted to just the athlete. This time, it was boorishness by committee: player, fans, announcers, and association president.
I’m referring to the 2018 women’s tennis final of the U.S. Open in New York City.
As often occurs in professional sports these days, the Big Top was overshadowed by a sideshow. Although 20-year-old Naomi Osaka of Japan won the champions’ trophy by obliterating American Serena Williams in straight sets, 6-2, 6-4, the vast majority of news stories are now focusing on Williams’ massive meltdown. Warned of being coached from the stands, she was then penalized a point for smashing her racket on the court, then penalized a game for verbally abusing the chair umpire for doing what he’s paid to do. The tantrum went on for, oh, maybe ten solid minutes, and continued in slightly milder fashion on the podium and in her news conference.
Here are some quotes from Queen Serena:
“I don’t cheat to win, I’d rather lose!” after being warned of coaching from the stands. (Though, after a history of angry outbursts at the U.S. Open, she seems to have difficulty losing.)
(And though cameras distinctly showed her coach, Patrick Mouratoglou, gesturing her to move forward, and Mouratoglou himself later admitted he was, indeed, coaching.)
“You stole a point from me and you are a thief!” after chair umpire Carlos Ramos penalized Williams for destroying her racket by slamming it on the court.
“You owe me an apology!” screamed over and over and over.
If this wasn’t bad enough, the raucous, one-sided crowd was behind Williams the whole way, consistently booing Ramos, as well as poor Osaka, whose heroine is (inconceivably) Williams, and who played her heart out.
Then on the podium after the match, USTA President Katrina Adams actually said “Perhaps it is not the finish we were looking for today.” She followed this biased remark with the even more remarkable “This mama (Williams) is a role model and respected by all.” Loud cheers follow, as Osaka—again, the victor and champion—continued to weep, undoubtedly due to the ugly dramatics around her as to her unlikely victory.
Williams refused to praise Osaka for her tennis playing, and instead played to the crowd by pretending to console Osaka…for Osaka’s victory.
The jellyfish announcers, Mary Carillo and Lindsay Davenport, seemed stunned by all of it, offering merely token praise to Osaka, and not once criticizing Williams for her antics. I’m just guessing here, but perhaps these two are aware that Williams does commercials for Chase, one of the tournament’s major sponsors? Quid pro quo, anyone?
Today, the majority of U.S. tennis fans are, in a disturbing shadowing of our petulant president’s behavior, tweeting all over cyberspace that it was the umpire’s fault their Queen lost, and that she deserves congratulations for speaking out against sexism. The Queen’s supporters include official women’s rights spokesperson and former tennis champion Billie Jean King.
The Katrina and Serena show continues as well. They’re joining King in shifting the focus from Williams’ disgusting tirade to the nebulous yet safe and fashionable issue of sexism. (A nice little club here.)
Am I the only one who feels like he’s living in an inverse universe, where values and priorities are turned upside down?
With seemingly everyone congratulating Williams for speaking out against sexism in tennis—by behaving like a spoiled brat because she lost—the tennis court has evidently now joined the football field as a place to air social grievances. (Despite significant differences between the motivations of sore losers like Williams and idealists like Colin Kapaernick.)
If wagon circling of big-money, entitled, immature superstars is where women’s tennis wants to be in the 21st century, count me out.
11 thoughts on “Serena Williams, Entitlement, and Tennis Hooligans”
Our national gene pool seems to be losing traits such as respect, compassion, and common sense!
Yes, the gene “pool” is getting shallower and shallower.
No, her behavior was outlandish. I am a woman and do not agree with all of the sexist comments out there. I think that she may have had a point about the coaching BUT from that point on her behavior was uncalled for. She was unprofessional, acted like a spoilt brat, and is a poor representative of the US and tennis.
“…I think she may have had a point about the coaching…”
Her original point to the ump was that she doesn’t “cheat.” Well, the ump didn’t say she did. But when he sees her coach making gestures (coaching her) he’s required to do something. So, he issued a warning. After that, she became possessed, and it just spiraled downward.
My essay didn’t claim that sexism, a double standard, doesn’t exist in tennis. Maybe it does. But it’s not exactly measurable, and the bald fact is that if the Queen wants to make a case for it, she can do it off-court. (But she’s not exactly a human rights crusader, so don’t expect anything soon.) Her “sexism” claims are a smokescreen. She’s a hothead who can’t handle losing. Period. And the hooligan NY tennis fans, and press, only encourage her. A sad display all-around, but not surprising in this era of Trump.
I did not see the tennis match therefore really do not have the right to comment however I do believe a person needs to speak up for themselves now and then. Not taking sides yet congrats to Naomi Osaka who played her heart out to win the championship.
Osaka was the victim here, not Williams. Maybe you’ve only read snips from the sports press, MK, but Williams demolished her tennis racket and berated the officials for at least 10 (15?) minutes because she was losing the match and needed someone to blame. There may indeed be “sexism” in tennis. But pulling the “gender card” and throwing a temper tantrum during a championship match because you’re losing isn’t a mature or responsible way to “speak up” for yourself. If Holly or Nick ever did this, I’d have yanked them off the court! We hear accusations of “entitlement” all the time these days. Well, this was a classic example of an attempt to exercise entitlement.
Well said and eye-opening as usual, Pedro. Thank you!
You’re welcome. Now that I wrote it all down, I feel a little better!
Well written piece, there is definitely a whole dimension of vested interest in this story. People are nervous about saying what they truly feel out of that. Thanks for commenting on my version, led me to this.
Thank you. Your piece was refreshingly less angry than mine, maybe because you’re not American. There’s probably some nervousness. Gender bias is a sensitive topic these days, and there’s always the underlying issue of race. I just think it’s important to hit these things head on and be truthful.
The main concern I had was gender bias, it is easy with issues to be too one sided and come off as sexist. I wanted to avoid it. You did very well to tread that line too. Anger is properly channeled can make great pieces, as yours shows.