Why Serena Williams’ U.S. Open Final Has People Calling Out Sexism and Double Standards in Tennis

September 9, 2018, 3:47 PM UTC

Serena Williams lost the U.S. Open final Saturday in a match that left winner Naomi Osaka in tears and is still inspiring reflection and criticism a day later.

Williams was penalized a game by the chair umpire for an argument in which she called him a thief. The encounter looked a lot like similar arguments male players have had on the court without penalty. Williams received a code violation for receiving coaching during the match and demanded an apology from the chair umpire, Carlos Ramos. He issued a third code violation in response, giving a game to Osaka.

On Sunday, Williams was fined $17,000 for the three total code violations, the Associated Press reported. The fine includes $10,000 for “verbal abuse” of Ramos, $4,000 for the coaching warning, and $3,000 for breaking her racket. The fine will come out of Williams’ $1.85 million in runner-up prize money.

“There are men out here that do a lot worse, but because I’m a woman, because I’m a woman, you’re going to take this away from me? That is not right,” Williams said during the match, as the New York Times reports.

After the final, Williams said more about the double standard.

“I can’t sit here and say I wouldn’t say he’s a thief because I feel like he took the game from me,” she said. “I’ve seen other men call other umpires several things and I’m here fighting for women’s rights and women’s equality. And for him to take a game? It made me feel like it was a sexist remark. I mean, like he’s never taken a game from a man because he’s said thief. It blows my mind. But I’m going to continue to fight for women.”

Many viewers compared the incident to the behavior of John McEnroe, who was famous for his on-court, racket-smashing tirades in the 1980s and 1990s.

The call also resonated after another double standard revealed in the U.S. Open two weeks ago when French player Alize Cornet reversed her backwards shirt on the court, temporarily revealing her black sports bra, resulting in a code violation. Male players are shirtless during matches all the time, including Novak Djokovic in a match that same day, as CNN reports. The tournament said it “regretted the code violation” after the comparison gained attention.

Williams had also been the target last month of a new rule at the French Open banning catsuits like the one she wore earlier this year.

Tennis icons and viewers rushed to Williams’s defense during and after the match Saturday. Viewers also offered an outpouring of sympathy for Osaka, whose first Grand Slam win is tied up in the controversy.

“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,” Billie Jean King wrote on Twitter. “Thank you, @serenawilliams, for calling out this double standard. More voices are needed to do the same.”

In her post-match interview, Williams was asked how she would explain “what happened out there tonight” and how she could have “handled it differently” to her daughter—a question players like McEnroe were never asked about their children.

“I’ll tell her first of all that I stood up for what I believed in I stood up for what was right,” Williams said. “Sometimes things in life don’t happen the way we want them, but to always stay gracious and stay humble. That’s the lesson I think we can all learn from this.”