I should preface this article by saying that I do not cry easily. In fact, I never cry. At least in public anyway. So, as you can imagine, weeping in a freshmen packed library on a quiet Sunday afternoon was one of my strangest experiences in recent memory.
What did I cry about? A tennis match.
To be clear, I am not a whole heartedly devoted tennis fanatic. (Unless Andy Murray is playing. Then shit gets serious). But this particular game, the US Open Women's Final to be exact, really hit a nerve.
If you haven't read or heard about the results (spoiler alert if you're waiting to watch) 20 year old Naomi Osaka topped Serena Williams to claim the title with a 6-2, 6-4 victory.
As you can guess, this moment was huge for Osaka. Not only is she the first Japanese tennis player to win a Grand Slam singles tournament, but she did it beating her childhood idol. Her win reflected her impeccable performance during the tournament; in seven matches played en route to the title she only dropped one set and a total of 34 games. The presentation ceremony should have been her crowning moment, devoted to this astounding achievement.
But it wasn't. The prize giving, in fact, was marred with constant booing and shouting from the crowd, their disgust stemming from events that had happened relating to Serena and the chair umpire, Carlos Ramos. This is what this match will be remembered for.
In short, what transpired between Williams and Ramos was a series of heated interchanges, sparked by Ramos' initial code allegation that Serena had received coaching during the game from her coach of 6 years, Patrick Mouratoglou, who Ramos claimed was giving her hand signals from the stands. Ramos then deducted a point from Williams for smashing her racket. To top this all off, Ramos finished by deducting an entire game from Williams, citing 'verbal abuse', as Serena had continued to demand an apology from him for incorrectly accusing her of receiving coaching.
Let's be clear, Williams was at no point, in my opinion, verbally abusive. The worst attack she made to Ramos was calling him a 'thief' for deducting points based on the initial accusation; she framed this by saying 'I have never cheated in my life. You owe me an apology'. Watching the highlights shows clearly how she approached the conversation in yes, an emotive and passionate way, but at no point by acting aggressively or violently.
The moment became of vital importance when Serena laid plain the reality of this situation; if she were a man, this would never have happened. 'Do you know how many men do things much worse than that?' she asked the referee during the game, on the edge of tears, 'because I am a woman, you are going to take this away from me?'.
It was at this moment that my tear ducts started to feel a little more heavy than usual. Knowing the journey that Williams has come on to get to this final, coming back from a pregnancy where she almost lost her life giving birth last September, makes it's doubly as hard to watch a woman have her entire experience tainted by a man who judged her for her instinctive and emotive retaliation.
Such blatant sexism on the part of Ramos robbed not only Serena of this experience, but Osaka too. This can be seen in the fact that during the awards presentation, both players stood in tears. Osaka even went as far as apologising to the crowd; 'I know that everyone was cheering for [Williams] and I'm sorry it had to end like this. I want to say thank you for watching the match.' Despite holding the trophy, she looked visibly depressed, and it's clear why; Osaka will never know if she won this game because she was the better player. There is no one other than Ramos who can be blamed for this.
Williams held herself to the highest standard during these moments; as USTA Chairman and President Katrina Adams so aptly stated below;
"'This was Naomi's moment and Serena wanted her to be able to enjoy it. That was a class move from a true champion. What Serena has accomplished this year in playing her way back on to the tour is truly amazing. She continues to inspire, because she continues to strive to be the best. She owns virtually every page of the record book, but she's never been one to rest on her laurels."
Many others have come out in support for Williams; Billie Jean King tweeted support saying '"When a woman is emotional, she's "hysterical" and she's penalized for it. When a man does the same, he's "outspoken" & and there are no repercussions. Thank you, Serena Williams, for calling out this double standard. More voices are needed to do the same'. Retired US tennis star Andy Roddick also tweeted in support saying, "I've regrettably said worse and I've never gotten a game penalty." I could go on with countless other voices of support, but I think you get the point.
Despite WTA CEO Steve Simon issuing a statement today saying that some gender bias and sexism had occurred in the game, nothing can rectify the pain caused by this experience to both Williams and Osaka. What can change, however, is the fact that women are not being treated equally in the tennis world. Look no further than the penalization of Alize Cornet at the same US Open tournament for fixing her backwards shirt a week ago to know that something is deeply wrong.
So yes, I wept (a little), and if, as Ramos would insinuate, that me reacting in this way makes me an overly emotional woman, then so be it. That was my authentic, humanly response to something I found upsetting. Just as Williams and Osaka did in that moment. I hope others watch the event and realise why many have reacted in the same vein, and realise that we need to talk about these issues to make change viable. And this change better come, because I don’t want to be quietly weeping in a library again anytime soon.
Written by Phoebe O'Hara