There is no denying that Serena Williams has overcome a lot of adversity in the past year. A childbirth complication in September of 2017 gave her six blood clots in her lung and a plummeting heart rate, leaving her bedridden for six weeks. Then, after less than a year of recovery, Williams took to the French Open, where she was banned from wearing a Nike catsuit specifically designed to prevent the blood clots she was still suffering from. Although major tennis tournaments such as the French Open have often had a reputation for strict dress codes, many claim that this decision was racially motivated. These claims were only exacerbated by the fact that Williams had to pull out of the tournament due to injury.
After a heartbreaking loss in the Wimbledon final, Williams moved on to the US Open, a tournament she has won six times in her career already. With the home crowd advantage, Williams arrived with a big expectations. After winning her way to the finals, she faced Japan’s Naomi Osaka. A win against Osaka would grant her the seventh US Open title of her career, and tie her with Margaret Court for the all-time record for the most Grand Slam tournament wins in history. However, as the match progressed on, Williams began to fall behind.
After losing the first set 2-6, and already down in the second to Osaka, Williams received a warning for coaching and exploded at the referee. Contrary to popular opinion, this infraction was legitimate. In tennis, it is against the rules to receive coaching during a match, regardless of whether or not the player is aware of their coach’s actions or gestures. Serena Williams, in this match, received coaching, as her coach later admitted, and acted irrationally in response to umpire Carlos Ramos’ call. A few games later, Williams smashed her racket in frustration and received a second infraction which cost her a point and prompted more arguing between her and Ramos. Eventually, Williams called Ramos a thief for “stealing” a point from her, which resulted in a third infraction and her forfeiting of one game in the set. Ultimately, Williams lost the match to Osaka: 2-6, 4-6.
I understand that Serena Williams is sensitive to allegations of cheating due to being drug tested at much higher rates than the rest of her peers, but, in this case, Williams’ reaction was uncalled for. Additionally, Williams claimed that the referee’s actions were an issue of gender bias. She stated that she is always treated unfairly at this event and that men have called umpires much worse than a “thief” without being penalized. But, we shouldn’t be saying “if men can act like that so can I.” We should hold men and women to the same standards. No one should be shouting at referees and smashing their rackets, regardless of if they’re a man or woman. The more feminist thing to have done would have been to continue the match with a professional bearing and later appeal for men to be punished similarly. Naomi Osaka, who is also African-American, deserved her victory. She outperformed Serena the entire set and demonstrated masterful control with powerful serves and consistency. Williams’ outbursts only turned the conversation away from Osaka’s victory and toward her own misconduct.
This incident proposes a larger issue for the dissonant nature of feminists. Those who advocate for feminism on a large scale, such as Serena Williams, often contradict themselves with their own individual actions. In Serena’s case, it was likely not intentional. I doubt she intended to turn the spotlight away from Osaka. However, her outbursts of emotion and cries of sexism and racism did just that. After her victory Osaka, only 20 years old and a first time Grand Slam finalist, was visibly upset, crying into her hands and covering her face with her hat . Although the packed Arthur Ashe stadium of nearly 25,000 people was not booing her so much as they were umpire Carlos Ramos, Osaka’s memory of her first Grand Slam title will be defined by these boos and the controversy surrounding her victory.
As a veteran of the game and one of the most prominent symbols of female empowerment in the world, Serena Williams needs to recognize the implications of her actions. From her irrational behavior, Williams has cast a shadow over the amazing achievement of another black female tennis player. Osaka is just one of few African-American women to win the US Open, and she is the first player of Japanese descent to ever win a Grand Slam. However, because of the way Williams acted during the match, the media and fans have forgotten her victory and have instead created a debate on whether or not Serena was wronged. Additionally, those unfamiliar with tennis and this match have associated Osaka with Carlos Ramos’ calls, claiming that she was undeserving of her victory and that Serena would have won if not for Osaka’s so-called “advantage.” This is not to say Serena Williams is not a feminist, or even that she wasn’t wronged at the US Open. However her actions and lack of awareness reflect poorly upon her promotion of so-called feminism.