Making a racket about tennis

Helena Lara, Photo Editor

Serena Williams is considered one of the greatest female tennis players of her time, holding the record for most Grand Slam titles won among active players. Despite her success, even she is a victim of double standards. The most recent example came from the US Open game against opponent Naomi Osaka.

On Sept. 8th, Williams played in the US Open Final against Osaka. This match ultimately led to her defeat because of violations judged by umpire Carlos Ramos that dramatically changed the momentum of the match.

The controversy began with a coaching violation warning given to Williams by Ramos, who caught Williams’ coach Patrick Mouratoglou using hand signals, most likely motioning for Williams to move closer to the net. Coaching is not allowed during matches in tennis, though it is a common practice and is usually not cause for punishment. This is why it was surprising when Ramos gave her this strict warning. The warning aggravated Williams as she deemed it unfair that she was accused of cheating. Following the first warning, two more violations were committed.The second one was for throwing her tennis racket onto the court in frustration after losing a point, and the third was for verbal abuse after Williams called the umpire a thief for taking away a point from her because of the racket violation.

Although Williams’ reactions were not respectful to the umpire or her opponent and did not display good sportsmanship, the problem lies in the fact that Serena was heavily penalized for mistakes that male players commit all the time, but are not penalized to the same degree for. This is why William, and many others have highlighted that the US Open final was affected by tennis’ double standards.

These double standards can be attributed to many social roles that have been normalized in society. For example, the phrase “boys will be boys” expresses a double standard because essentially it assumes that that boy’s mistakes and wrongful actions are simply an effect of their masculinity, and should not be taken into account as badly intentioned, no matter the effect of their actions. But, girls’ actions on the other hand are set to higher standards than boys’; their mistakes and wrongful actions are analyzed differently and consequently punished or praised to a higher degree.

Instead of receiving a strict warning for coaching, losing a point and a game because of further violations, a male player who acted the same might have received no repercussions. This is because punishment for coaching is inconsistently practiced, and a man would have received a mere strict warning for breaking a racket, and thus would have avoided verbal abuse.

The famous retired tennis player John McEnroe is a good example of a male player famous that is well known for throwing rackets and committing verbal abuse, but instead of being criticised by the media, McEnroe’s character was built as a tennis “bad boy”. In comparison, Williams has been called out as immature and hysterical. Not only that, but Williams’ actions were portrayed insensitively in a racist cartoon by the Herald Sun in which she was represented jumping and throwing a tantrum that resembled too closely the dehumanizing Jim Crow cartoons from the 1950s and ‘60s.

Another example of an umpire that unfairly ruled a female player is when Alize Cornet took off her shirt on the court during a US Open game and received a code violation by umpire Christian Rask. Cornet returned to the court after a ten minute break only to realize she had put her fresh shirt on the wrong way, in order to switch the shirt around she took it off and briefly exposed her sports bra. Male players remove their shirts on court all the time, for example Novak Djokovic at the US Open this year.

Not only do double standards affect the sport, it also affects how players of different sexes are represented by society and the media after a controversial game. When male players display unsportsmanlike conduct, they are represented in the media as strong and masculine, oftentimes being praised even. Because of gender stereotypes, women are taught to be perfect. They are penalized for showing emotions and opinions, not only in sports but in all other aspects of society.

Serena Williams came out openly to accuse the umpire of sexism, but other players, male and female alike, have agreed with her statement that she was treated differently than male players have been.

Many professional male tennis players have come to Serena’s defense. James Blake, a former U.S. male tennis player, tweeted about the controversy.

“I will admit I have said worse and not gotten penalized,” Blake said. “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. He should have at least given her that courtesy.”

Not only do double standards affect the game, and the player, it affects sports in many other ways as well including representation in the media. But tennis is not alone in structured sexism. Many female athletes in other professional sports suffer from similar unjust punishments. But the problem is not only in sports legislations and rulebooks, but in society itself. Only when we begin judging males and females the same way without repressing female actions and opinions in all aspects of society we will be able to achieve greater equality.