Serena Williams’ U.S. Open loss last Saturday was her own and she should blame no one but herself. When the chair umpire made a call she didn’t like, Williams responded horribly, calling him a liar, demanding an apology, and refusing to let him speak when attempted a response. And despite warnings and further penalties, Williams continued, refusing to stop arguing with the umpire.
Williams’ charade downplays Naomi Osaka’s triumph, promotes bad sportsmanship, and is an outright insult to the higher glory of competition. Her smashed racquets, snippy arguments, and exaggerated anguish intended to distract from Osaka’s great tennis by focusing on drama and victimhood.
Warping the outcome of the match to fit a victim mentality is not a new trick for Williams. While professed universally as one of the greatest women’s tennis players — and, arguably, one of the best athletes in history — she’s also the most dramatic in the sport.
In 2009, Williams verbally assaulted the line judge for calling a foot fault on a second serve, leaving Kim Clijsters one point away from winning the semifinals of the U.S. Open. Among the many expletives hurled, Williams went so far as to threaten to shove a tennis ball down the judge’s throat.
Then in 2011, Williams went off on an expletive-filled tirade at the chair umpire for penalizing her yell mid-point because the ball was still in play. She called the umpire a “hater” and “unattractive on the inside,” among other things.
These are just two examples, both of which occurred at past U.S. Opens. There are many other tournaments in which Williams has made herself the victim, and she always relies on alleged sexism to do so. But ironically, both judges in the aforementioned temper tantrums were female — and it was Williams who verbally assaulted them. What a noble suffragette Williams makes for battling the sexism she endured.
William’s supporters, however, are spotlighting the excused conduct of male tennis players, like Novak Djokovic and Rafael Nadal, in an attempt to prove sexism. But they seem to forget that these tirades never went unpunished. Nick Kygrios didn’t get away with intentionally throwing his matches, or “tanking” them. And legend John McEnroe faced penalties for screaming obscenities and hurling objects.
The penalties Williams received have less to do with a female vs. male issue than they do with her personality issue. Just as many in the tennis world were disgusted with Serena’s princess attitude as they were with Kygrios’s recent, ignoble “tanking.” But they are more forgiving of players like Djokovic and Nadal that continue to bring honor to the game through their professionalism and consideration toward opponents. These fan-favorites, however, still receive their fair share of punishment when they act out: Like any other player, Roger Federer was fined multiple times throughout his career for inappropriate conduct.
The umpire’s strict penalty impositions may well be the result of character preference, but it has nothing to do with sex. Williams continues to justify her temper tantrums though, fancying herself the hero by virtue of alleged suffering and discrimination.
And this is all because Williams struggles to handle loss — she will always find a way to make everything into a bigger issue to distract from her poor sportsmanship. Her antics this past weekend are the mark of a learned manipulator downplaying a loss by placing it in the context of a larger societal problem — sexism. Funny enough, you never catch her doing the same after one of her wins.
Corinne Prost is a senior on the women’s tennis team and is studying American Studies.