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A Professor’s Take on Serena Williams and Her U.S. Open Loss

Adrianna Wolf, Centurion Staff

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In a surprising upset, tennis’ biggest star Serena Williams lost her match against first-time finalist Naomi Osaka in the women’s final of the U. S. Open tennis tournament. But the upset was not Williams’ loss: it was that she finished with three penalties, creating controversy in the tennis world.
The event took place on Sept. 8, the day of the women’s final of the U.S. Open tennis tournament. Osaka beat Williams 6-6, 6-4 in the final, making her the first Grand Slam champion from Japan and the first Haitian-Japanese woman to win a major title.
The tennis match started like any other with high stakes on each side of the court. Williams had the chance to out title Margaret Court, a retired Australian tennis champion, and her record of 24 grand slam titles.
Osaka was playing against her childhood idol, Williams, who she has looked up to in her tennis career. She also played with the chance of being the first Grand Slam champion from Japan.
But trouble was brewing when things got heated during the second set of the game. The umpire, Carlos Ramos, gave Williams a warning for receiving sideline coaching from her coach, Patrick Mouratoglou.
Directly after the call was made, Williams went up the empire and explained she was not using “codes” with her coach. She denied the claim and became extremely offended stating, “I don’t cheat to win, I would rather lose” and walked away from Ramos.
The second penalty came during the second match. The ball traveled between the players until Williams hit it into the net, causing her to lose that game.
Williams then went on to smash her racket onto the tennis court, bending it out of shape. Ramos then added a point penalty for racquet abuse. Williams felt the point she received should have been her warning due to the false claim of her cheating earlier in the match. When Ramos refused, Williams demanded an apology for attacking her character.
After Ramos refused to apologize, Williams claimed he stole a point from her and went on to call him a “thief”. This action was not in Williams favor, because it then lead Ramos to deem it as verbal abuse, giving her a game penalty.
Williams then called the referee onto the court when she was given the penalty. The referee agreed with the call which brought Williams to tears out of frustration.
Ultimately, Osaka won the match while simultaneously making history. Osaka then shed her own tears after winning such a hard fought match.
The events within the match created disapproval from the crowd and they were not afraid to make their opinion known, booing while Osaka was receiving her title. In the moment, Williams’ penalties seemed to overshadow Osaka’s achievement.
Following the match, there has been much public scrutiny from sports fans, tennis enthusiasts, feminists, and defenders of race. Somehow, these worlds collided over a tennis game .
Was Williams’ behavior unacceptable? Or, are certain members of society only judging Williams this harshly because she is a black woman in a profession entrenched in patriarchy, and in a world dominated by race?
Some within the tennis world feel Williams overreacted, while others claim Ramos was merely doing his job as an umpire. They also feel any male athlete would have received the same game penalty on the third warning.
Other athletes and fans of Williams understand her frustration and believe she had every right to act the way she did on the court.
Professor Susan Darrah teaches women’s studies at BCCC. She spoke about the match from her perspective. Being a fan of Williams allowed her to quickly hear about the event.
“I have seen far worse behavior in the past from male players, with fewer penalties, so why be so severe with Williams? One reason is the inherent sexism and disadvantages we [women] all face because we live in a patriarchal society,” said Darrah.
The sports industry originated with men and continues to revolve around patriarchy. This fact makes it difficult for women to reach success in the profession. Even if a female athlete does attain success and fame, she is vulnerable to the public scrutiny that comes with the title.
This is exemplified by Williams in social media from the past week. We see her in commercials for sportswear, jewelry and products directed towards mothers due to her recent pregnancy.
But, all of that is forgotten when she shows some form of emotion on national television without any editing. Women are penalized for reacting to things that upset them, especially in the sports industry.
Darrah touched on this when she noted, “Williams may have violated, from the point of view of Ramos, ‘unladylike’ behavior, which might prejudice him against her- Williams was angry and showed it.”
When watching the match between Williams and Osaka, Williams is visibly upset. Maybe she did overreact by damaging her racket and yelling at the umpire.  But it all comes back to the same question: would a male athlete receive the same penalties if they behaved the same way?

After the match, Williams attended a press conference to talk about the highlights of what took place.

Near the very end of the conference, Williams said, “The fact that I have to go through this is just an example for the next person that has emotions and wants to express themselves, and they want to be a strong woman. And they’re gonna be allowed to do that because of today. Maybe it didn’t work out for me but it’s gonna work out for the next person.”

Williams’ voice started breaking in the middle of that sentence. Even after being penalized on the court, she shows raw emotion to a room full of press.

Darrah feels that sports are always an important part of patriarchy, so this event will have impact on society. “I hope Williams is right. My sense though, is that what happens in men’s sports more,” said Darrah.

Even though the match between Williams and Osaka was frequently talked about, it is only a matter of time before a male athlete takes the spotlight.

But, hopefully Williams’ actions inspire other females to show raw emotion on the court to normalize that behavior in sports for men and women.

Women should not have to constantly worry about being “ladylike” to please society. Just like men should not have to worry about being “tough”.

The tennis match between Osaka and Williams overpowered the news and news and social media. Sadly, not many articles have been written congratulating Osaka on her success, instead choosing to focus on the controversy surrounding the match.

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A Professor’s Take on Serena Williams and Her U.S. Open Loss