By now we’ve all read and heard a number of different takes on last weekend’s U.S. Open final against 20-year-old Naomi Osaka and 23-time Grand Slam Champion Serena Williams.
Both Serena and chair umpire Carlos Ramos can stand to apologize for their contributions to what unfolded in the match. We’ve come to that conclusion and more here on this website.
There’s been so much rumbling in my head after what I witnessed last Saturday afternoon. Here’s my attempt to give access into how the wheels in my brain are turning.
1) To consider race and gender in what happened in last Saturday’s match doesn’t mean you can’t be clear eyed or can’t come to the conclusions that Serena lost her composure and her penalty for smashing her racket was deserved.
To divorce racism and sexism from the analysis is a disservice if the aim is to provide a well-rounded perspective of what happened on the court and what happened off of it as a result.
Raise your hand if you know why editors at the Herald Sun defended a racist caricature of Serena and Osakadrawn by an Australian cartoonist and doubled down by running the cartoon on the front page. Raise your other hand if you know why umpires are reportedly threatening to boycott Serena’s future matches. Race and gender matter in our understanding of this story as much as personal responsibility does and the need to acknowledge the fallenness of humanity as well as the need for repentance.
2) Imagine having your integrity, dominance and existence in a sport unduly questioned and under suspicion for the totality of your sporting career. Imagine being drug tested more than twice as much as your competitors. Imagine you and your sister being accused of “fixing games” because there has to be an explanation for your excellence. (Ya know, outside of actually playing with excellence.)
Now imagine having your integrity challenged at the US Open, where you've previously had issues with the umpiring, in a match that would further cement your legacy as one of the greatest athletes the world has ever seen. Add the frustration/internal dread/mounting pressure of a rare opportunity for victory, for undisputed preeminence, slipping away yet again.
Even for a 23-time Grand Slam champion, that's a lot. I believe all that is bubbling up to the surface when she's making her case and demands an apology from Ramos. Yeah, she lost her cool and will own up by paying a 17k fine as a result. But I also understand she's human and she’s got a lot to be upset about.
3) In what ways can Christian athletes outwardly express anger in a competitive atmosphere and not sin? What does it look like to seriously apply the exhortation of Ephesians 4:26 in an environment that often requires anger-adjacent emotions, like ferocity, intensity, and aggression?
4) Serena’s not alone in what she felt on the court. Since the match, Black women and women of color have been discussing versions of their own US Open moments where they’ve testified that their self-advocacy, passion and directness when trying to rectify an injustice or address a concern often gets interpreted as being uncooperative, cantankerous, aggressive or otherwise difficult when we see everyone else getting away with much worse and given the latitude to do so without those labels being attached to them. So, I get 'Rena’s rage, an Eloquent Rage as Brittney Cooper puts it in her book by the same title.
5) Osaka played masterfully. _IF_ Serena forced a third set, it’s a high probability Osaka still wins. But we won’t know since the game was decided for both of them because of how Ramos chose to rule, inserting himself rather than try to de-escalate by giving a soft warning. Some would say Serena isn’t necessarily wrong in her assessment in calling him a thief since he did take away an opportunity for them to compete and an opportunity for the viewing audience to watch more great tennis.
6) When Serena rightfully points out the double standard between the men’s and women’s game, she’s not fighting for a license to behave badly, but pushing for fairness and for standards to be consistent.
7) It’ll be interesting to see what policy changes come from this match. Serena has influenced tennis policy before. The outcome of her 2004 match with Jennifer Capriati helped tennis officials introduce Hawk Eye technology to the game. We’ll see if this match has any impact on the rules of play.
8) Serena’s embrace of Osaka at the net and on the trophy podium shouldn’t be overlooked. As much as this match will be remembered for her expressions of frustration, her embrace of her opponent, one of a generation of tennis players she’s influenced, is an important show of sportsmanship.
9) Osaka was the only one to give an apology who shouldn't have. The young champion should never apologize for using her gift to achieve greatness.
10) I wonder if Serena's coach, Patrick Mouratoglou, has offered to pitch in on her 17k fine. Because I think we would've seen a different match if he decides to keep his hands in his lap.