A surreal scene enveloped the U.S. Open finals on Saturday, as an outburst from Serena Williams and a questionable game penalty from a chair umpire were the talk of the tennis world rather than Naomi Osaka’s first Grand Slam title.
First, Williams was issued a warning from chair umpire Carlos Ramos for a coaching violation, which Williams swore was illegitimate. She would receive another warning for a coaching violation six games later. Williams again disputed the violation, then smashed her racket in frustration.
"I don't cheat to win. I'd rather lose."
—Serena to the chair umpire after receiving a coaching violation pic.twitter.com/v6Q2GWYYOn
— espnW (@espnW) September 8, 2018
Down 4-3 in the second set and already having lost the first set 6-2, Williams received a third violation for verbal abuse against the chair umpire and a shocking game penalty, all but putting the match away for Osaka. A tearful Williams chalked the penalty up to being targeted for her gender during a discussion with U.S. Open officials.
Twitter reacts to Serena Williams’ meltdown
I covered 17 U.S.Opens for Sports Illustrated. This is just my opinion: There is no way a men’s player with Serena resume (multiple GS titles, economic driver of the sport) is getting a third code violation for that language in the finals of a major. No way.
— Richard Deitsch (@richarddeitsch) September 9, 2018
— Lindsay Czarniak (@lindsayczarniak) September 8, 2018
That chair umpire was a clown for calling the abusive language violation, but very likely Osaka was going to win with or without that.
— Nate Silver (@NateSilver538) September 8, 2018
There’s a lot to say about that match that 280 characters (or however many we have now) just can’t do justice to. Wow. Absolutely terrible that ref robbed both Naomi and Serena of this moment.
— Justin Tinsley (@JustinTinsley) September 8, 2018
Osaka totally deserved to win. And that BS totally didn’t need to happen.
— Dana O'Neil (@DanaONeilWriter) September 8, 2018
— Wendell Pierce (@WendellPierce) September 8, 2018
Serena called the official a thief because she felt a point was stolen and that caused her to lose a game. Can you imagine how many NBA and NFL games would be lost if the things those guys said to refs if the same rules applied? Whack.
— Shannon Green (@IamShannonGreen) September 8, 2018
Would be nice if some of Serena’s male counterparts had her back and admitted they’ve said a lot worse to the umpire. I know I’ve heard A LOT worse from NBA players directed at refs.
— Ramona Shelburne (@ramonashelburne) September 8, 2018
Two things can be true:
1. Serena did not lose because of Carlos. She lost because Osaka played lights out better than she did. And stayed composed.
2. The game penalty was absurd, and this is a devastating end to the tournament.
— Lindsay Gibbs (@linzsports) September 8, 2018
You can bet plenty of active and former tennis players also had opinions on Williams’ penalty and the umpire’s conduct, with a majority critical of the decision.
(1/2) Several things went very wrong during the @usopen Women’s Finals today. Coaching on every point should be allowed in tennis. It isn’t, and as a result, a player was penalized for the actions of her coach. This should not happen.
— Billie Jean King (@BillieJeanKing) September 9, 2018
(2/2) 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, @serenawilliams, for calling out this double standard. More voices are needed to do the same.
— Billie Jean King (@BillieJeanKing) September 9, 2018
Worst refereeing I’ve ever seen …… the worst !!!
— andyroddick (@andyroddick) September 8, 2018
This is bs
— victoria azarenka (@vika7) September 8, 2018
Are you serious ? What is this final ? Never saw this… #USOpen
Worst refereeing I’ve ever seen. Coaching warning was nothing, then the game penalty. What a joke. Osaka played amazing and totally taking away from her moment as well. That was bad #USOpen
— Jessie Pegula (@JLPegula) September 8, 2018
Not everyone was on Williams’ side, however.
Y'all, I understand why Serena was upset and she wasn't wrong to be. That was…something. Evert said we've never seen anything like this before and that, you know, seems to happen around Serena. Funny, that.
— Jessica Luther (@jessicawluther) September 8, 2018
This is crazy! If @serena only said you’re a thief, that’s unbelievable!!!!! I feel terrible for @Naomi_Osaka_ too. This is awful all around. The coaching violation was questionable. I see a ton of coaching from the box and that was marginal. The racket break was legit penalty
— rennae stubbs (@rennaestubbs) September 8, 2018
Despite all the confusion and frustration, Williams received widespread praise for how she handled Osaka’s trophy ceremony. Williams did her best to keep the focus on Osaka during an uncomfortable situation in which the U.S. Open crowd seemed more angry about the match than happy for Osaka.
Serena diffused situation. Only she could do that. Amazing class.
Congrats Naomi. She deserved the win.
— Patrick McEnroe (@PatrickMcEnroe) September 8, 2018
Serena showing tremendous grace and humility and dignity right now.
— Touré (@Toure) September 8, 2018
Serena is just amazing. It takes serious heart, patience and courage to ensure Osaka gets the best moment possible.
— Danny Leroux (@DannyLeroux) September 8, 2018
Good call for Serena to not take questions in that moment to let Osaka shine. Osaka looks so uncomfortable, or sad even.
— Kerith Burke (@KerithBurke) September 8, 2018
— Charlotte Clymer🏳️🌈 (@cmclymer) September 8, 2018
Serena giving this moment to Naomi Osaka is one of the greatest moments I have seen in sports. Serena is the greatest athlete of all time. On the court. And off. #USOpen
— Michael Skolnik (@MichaelSkolnik) September 8, 2018
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