Building an appeal for Serena Williams


author: konstantin kharitonov | sports editor

Sexism claims plague tennis / Steve Jurvetson via Flickr

Williams’ case with the ITF

Okay, before I get started, I want to make this very clear: 1. Yes, that comic was racist, intentionally or not. Serena Williams was depicted as a caricature. 2. No, this article is not a social commentary of the events that happened during the US Open final. You can find a wonderfully written article describing it in our Op-ed section. This article is more meant as an evaluation of what Williams was penalized for and whether there is legitimacy to them.  

To give some context, Serena Williams was facing off agains 20-year-old Naomi Osaka at the US Open final. During the match, the chair umpire, Carlos Ramos, spotted Williams’ coach, Patrick Mouratoglou, gesturing hand signals to Williams. When he sees this, Ramos assessed a code violation to Williams, warning that any future actions would result in a point penalty. Later in the game, Williams broke her racket out of frustration, which resulted in another code violation.  

Officially counting this as her second, Ramos issued a point penalty to Williams, which caused her to angerly retort back at Ramos with accusations that the umpire was stealing the point from her. In response, Ramos gave her another penalty, this time for verbal abuse against an umpire.  

With three penalties already awarded, Williams was forced to forfeit the game. Days later, the International Tennis Federation fined Williams for each of the three violations. She was fined $3,000 for racket abuse, $4,000 for coaching, and $10,000 for verbal abuse. That is a hefty fine for someone who felt like she was wrongfully penalized for her actions and, as such, it’s worth looking into if she has a case for an appeal. 

First off, breaking a racquet is irrefutable. When Serena Williams threw her racquet at the ground, that penalty was going to be allocated. Since the rule on racquet abuse is so set in stone, its impossible to argue against it. Unfortunately, that is $4,000 that cannot be appealed back.  

The coaching violation is where things get a bit hairy. Mouratoglou did admit postgame that he was trying to gesture toward Williams, admitting as well that he had seen Osaka’s coach doing the same thing.  

“I was coaching,” Mouratoglou tolds ESPN, “but I don’t think she looked at me. Osaka’s coach was coaching the whole time, too. Everyone is doing it, 100 per cent of the time.” 

Bit of a broad statement painting the blame on everyone, but the first part matches up with Williams’ comments toward Ramos on the court. 

“I don’t cheat to win. I’d rather lose.” 

She followed up on the coaching violation and Mouratoglou’s comments by mentioning that she did not have any knowledge of his gestures and that the two do not have any established.  

“We don’t have signals. We have never discussed signals,” Williams was telling reporters. “I’m trying to figure out why he would say that.” 

So, while Mouratoglou admits to coaching, Williams denies any involvement with the situation, and her stance is consistent throughout the match. In turn, her violation stems from something that was not under her control. Its difficult to argue against in an appeal, since Mouratoglou did admit guilt and it is Williams’ word against the ITF, but in the very least, she shouldn’t be paying for a violation that her coach committed.  

Now, the final and most controversial penalty, the abuse of an official. Williams did have an outburst at Ramos, clearly not happy with the two previous violations, thinking that the coaching violation should not have been as such. 

“I don’t cheat. I didn’t get coaching,“ Williams talking to Ramos during the match. “You owe me an apology. For you to attack my character is something. It’s wrong. How dare you insinuate that I was cheating. You stole a point from me. You’re a thief, too.” 

And it’s that final statement that was enough for Ramos that he then assessed a penalty for verbal abuse against an official, thus making Williams forfeit the game. Because of this, Williams demanded to talk to referee Brian Earley, saying that what she said should not be considered verbal abuse. 

“There are men out here that do a lot worse, but because I am a woman, you are going to take this away from me?” 

After the event, fellow players and members of the tennis world agreed with Williams’ statements and that she was wrongfully penalized for her comments.  

“I will admit I have said worse and not gotten penalized,” American tennis player James Blake mentions in a tweet about the violation. “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.” 

Frankly, its right. Tennis players have said and done worse things to umps, even worse things to Ramos himself, than Williams during a game, and have only gotten warnings rather than an actual coaching violation.   

In a 2018 match at Wimbledon, Novak Djokovic was seen directly sending a ball toward Ramos and did not get a single violation. At the French Open, Djokovic openly stated to Ramos, “You’re losing your mind,” and still only got a warning.  

Even other women such as Coco Vandeweghe had outburss t, that frankly were worse, and still did not get violations. In a 2017 match, Vandeweghe called the umpires calls baloney and even asked her, “How can you be that wrong? Have you ever played tennis?” Still, no code violations, no point penalty.  

So, was “thief” really the word that enraged Ramos? Possibly, but that should not have resulted in a match penalty due to the previously established precedent. If you are going to call outbursts code violations from now on, be consistent with calling them, or else your legitimacy as an umpire is not valid anymore.  

If anything, Serena should at least get her $10,000 back in an appeal. She did not go any further above and beyond in her outburst than any other player has before, and she should not have been penalized so greatly for it. Its $10,000 she should be getting back, with her coach being slapped with the $4,000 fine for coaching.  


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