US Open controversies highlight sexism in tennis


Photo Courtesy of Commons Wikimedia

Medha Prodduturi, Forum Editor

The recent US Open was supposed to be a way to celebrate two black women at the top of professional tennis. Instead, it was restricted by a man on the sidelines. Carlos Ramos, umpire for the 2018 US Open match of Serena Williams and Naomi Osaka, has reminded us of all the times tennis and sexism were closely associated.

Williams, 36, was going for her 24th grand slam. However, she lost to Naomi Osaka, 20, after receiving three violations from the chair umpire — for illegal coaching, breaking her racket, and verbal abuse. The center of the controversy was the verbal abuse violation, which she earned after calling Carlos Ramos a “liar,” and a “thief.” Williams and Ramos are both to blame in the situation. Williams lost her temper when she needed it the most and Ramos failed to consider the consequences of his misjudging calls in such an intense match.

That being said, Williams’ point has validity — other men have said a lot worse. Former tennis player James Blake admits this via Twitter stating, “I will admit I have said worse and not gotten penalized. And I’ve also been given a “soft warning” by the ump where they tell you knock it off or I will have to give you a violation…”

Adding to that, fans never failed to show love for rage in sports, as long as it’s not from a woman. Tennis is filled with angry men: Agassi, John McEnroe, Jimmy Connors, Benoit Paire, Andy Roddick. They scream, spit, swear, break a racket and get penalized with an occasional fine. Or not. But, Ramos was in no mood to let William put on a show. The three violations cost Williams a game and a $17,000 fine. To make it worse, following the controversial match, an Australian cartoonist depicted Williams as an ape-like child, stomping and complaining, with a pacifier. The association of black people with monkeys is traced back to centuries. The comparison is degrading and proves that times haven’t changed as much as we think they did. Osaka was also portrayed as a white woman in the illustration. The cartoon was discriminatory to two of the greatest players the sport has ever seen.

It’s clear that Williams is the most well known victim of sexism in professional tennis. Recently, the French Tennis Federation banned her “Wakanda inspired catsuit” at the French Open. The suit’s main purpose was to help prevent blood clots in her body, following the birth of her daughter. The fact that her choice of clothing was a problem in a tournament designed to measure physical ability was sexist. One of the rare black women to dominate tennis, Williams has faced criticism throughout her career. Time and time again, Williams and other female tennis players have to experience things that their male counterparts never have to go through.

Certainly, Williams is not the only one in the center of a gender focused controversy. French tennis player Alize Cornet received a code violation for changing her shirt on the court, after realizing she had it on backwards. None of the men are penalized while sitting shirtless between games. During the US Open quarter final against Juan Martinez del Porto, John Isner changed his shirt 11 times throughout the game. During the same US Open quarter final, Novak Djokovic sat shirtless for several minutes while his opponent, John Millman of Australia stepped away to change his shirt. Neither of them were penalized. When you consider all this, there is no getting around the double standards on display. Cornet was penalized for something men like Djokovic have been doing for years. Three years ago, Canadian tennis player Eugenie Bouchard was asked to “give (us) a twirl,” by an Australian Open tennis commentator. Would he have asked a male player to twirl? Probably not.
Femininity has been a barrier to success when it shouldn’t be. The Williams-Ramos controversy was an unfortunate conflict with both sides at fault. However, Williams is not wrong to point out the injustices woman have to go through in sports. All in all, the continuous sexist events at the US Open question whether women will ever truly gain the equality they’re claimed to have in sports.