This week I wrote about the black girl magic alive among the women of color top tennis players in the world. Today we witnessed the most bizarre of US Opens in recent history. First, Naomi Osaka outplayed Serena throughout the match, most of the time looking like Serena of past times. Serving over 70 percent of her first serves in, she out hit Serena, out ran her, and kept her composure throughout the match better than the 23-time Grand Slam winner.
The two women comported themselves well throughout the first set, but all hell broke loose in the second set when Serena was cited for receiving coaching from her coach who was nestled across court from her on the opposite side of the baseline where she was beginning to serve. Serena denied ever receiving coaching during the match. We believed her. Serena interpreted the warning as the chair umpire accusing her of cheating.
Then she smashed her racquet on the court, resulting in a loss of point. This was followed by her demanding an apology from the umpire who flatly refused. She then told him not to speak to her and called him a “thief.” For this, he penalized her an entire game which made the score 3-5, as opposed to Williams being on at serve at 3-4.
Having given Osaka her props, let’s dissect what’s wrong with what happened during this much anticipated Finals. First, the US Open must get rid of the silly rule prohibiting coaching. Coaches can give as many signals as they desire but players must execute. Further, tennis is played between the ears meaning it is as much a mental game as physical one. Signaling a player on what to do does not give her the mental focus or confidence to execute. Professional tennis, particularly at Wimbledon, is steeped in too many archaic traditions that do not further the games’ fun or attractiveness. Many of these traditions, customs, and rules must be eliminated.
Next, I do not like to see professional or amateur players breaking racquets on court. In this match, Serena did not know the rule, nor was the chair transparent about the coaching call actually being a violation. I do not believe if she knew she would be docked a point, she would have demonstrated by breaking a racquet as she did. The lesson here is, if you lose your serve, keep playing. Channel your frustration by lifting your level of play in upcoming games.
Now, on to the final point, whether or not the umpire should have penalized Williams for the the third time by giving her opponent a game during a tight second set after she smarted off to him. Demanding he apologize to her for docking her a point for breaking her racquet, she called him a “thief.” Not a MF, not an A- hole, not a SOB, but a metaphoric thief. For this, umpire Carlos Ramos let his ego get in the way, and he was going to show her who’s really boss out there on the court. Never mind that Serena and her sister, Venus, made modern women’s tennis what it is today, a television ad sensation far superior to men’s tennis. With their powerful strokes and serves they changed the way women play tennis. Their awesome level of play made clear the case that women must be afforded comparable pay to men.
Ramos exhibited the behavior and attitude that no matter who Serena was and what she had accomplished, she was still a “nigger bitch,” and if she did not respect his authority as a male, he could return her to her “place” and status. I have watched all summer as professional male players cursed at chair umpires got lukewarm warnings, if that. Rafael Nadal, who went head to head with this same umpire, got five warnings, but no loss of points or games taken away. Serena pleaded her case to deaf ears. “Men say worse than ‘thief’ and nothing happens to them,” she pleaded.
All the godmother could do after seeing that her protests were falling on deaf ears was cry. I did not like to see the tears flow, but my wife convinced me that her emotions were true and why should women, or anyone as far as it is concerned, have to hide their pain and feelings of injustice? She was correct. I was viewing this through the lens of male patriarchy—the belief that true men don’t cry.
The poop butt umpire’s decision to make his feelings a decisive factor in an historical match between two magical women of color was just tragic. Get some thick skin, Carlos. Being called a metaphorical thief is not the end of your world. Most of us have been called worse countless times.
The entire controversy robbed Naomi Osaka of the thrill of her first Grand Slam win and reduced Serena Williams to tears having to explain that she, the greatest tennis player who ever lived, is not a thief.