Serena Williams gestures to umpire Carlos Ramos instead of shaking hands after her match against Naomi Osaka in the U.S. Open women's final on Sept. 8, 2018, at the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center.

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Liguori: Williams' US Open Meltdown Wasn't About Sexism

Serena Lost Control Of Match, Then Her Emotions

Ann Liguori
September 10, 2018 - 10:15 am

It was the most controversial match I’ve seen in my 36 years of covering the U.S. Open. And the controversy has nothing to do with sexism, as Serena Williams, the Women's Tennis Association and many others are charging.  

It was about an experienced, no-nonsense, non-lenient chair umpire, Carlos Ramos, doing his job. He’s been tough on Rafael Nadal, Novak Djokovic, Andy Murray and Nick Kyrgios, to name a few others, all of whom have been on the receiving end of code violations from him for one reason or another. When Williams was asked if she had any previous history with Ramos, she said: “Not at all. He's always been a great umpire.”

MORE: Governing Body Defends Umpire After Serena Williams Flap

It was about a superstar athlete who’s used to winning and who lost control of the match and her temper. And it’s not the first time Williams has had a meltdown on the court at the U.S. Open.

In 2009, after a lineswoman called a foot fault on her during her semifinal match against Kim Clijsters, Williams threatened to shove a tennis ball down her throat and dropped several F-bombs. She was given a point penalty by the chair umpire. It was match point for Clijsters, and the penalty ended the match.

In her 2011 final against Samantha Stosur, Williams was upset about a hindrance penalty after she yelled, "Come on!" during a point. She berated the chair umpire, calling her a
"hater" and "unattractive" inside. Stosur went on to win.

In 2004, the chair umpire called several overrules that favored Jennifer Capriati in a quarterfinal match that Williams lost. Afterward, the USTA apologized to Williams. Two years later, the instant replay -- the Hawkeye review technology -- was instituted.

PHOTOS: Naomi Osaka Defeats Serena Williams

The controversy is also about Williams’ coach, Patrick Mouratoglou, giving her hand signals from the box, which is still against the rules. He admitted afterward that he did, adding that most coaches do it and their players don’t get penalized for it. Williams has never been a fan of coaching during matches and said she didn’t even see Mouratoglou signaling her.

Did I mention that Williams was losing when all the chaos broke out? Naomi Osaka had taken the first set, 6-2, serving better, moving better, returning beautifully and coming up with passing shots when Williams did come up to the net. In the second set, Williams broke first, but Osaka was able to break right back when Serena netted a backhand. Overall, Williams had 21 unforced errors to Osaka’s 14. Osaka even had more aces than Williams – six to three. Williams also had six double faults.

Osaka played much better than Williams. I believe the 20-year-old from Japan would have won even if there were no code violations called and no meltdowns displayed.

Williams also lost to Osaka earlier in the season on hard courts in Miami.

MORE: Williams: Umpire Treated Me Differently Than A Male Player

All the pressure was on Williams, the Queen of Tennis, almost 17 years older than Osaka, Serena was continuing her impressive comeback after giving birth a year ago and looking to win her 24th Grand Slam singles title to tie Margaret Court’s longstanding record.

The first code violation resulted after the chair umpire saw Williams' coach signaling her. Then came the second code violation, resulting in the point penalty, because Williams threw her racquet. Then came the third code violation, which results in a game penalty, for the verbal abuse, which was indeed harsh, but it was issued because Williams continued to yell at the chair umpire, calling him a "liar" and a "thief."

Osaka, who would have been up 4-3 in the second set, suddenly found herself ahead 5-3. Williams called for the tournament referee and WTA supervisor to plead her case. She complained about bias and all of it being unfair, that men call umpires stronger words and don’t get penalized for it.

Bottom line, Williams should know by now how to maintain control of her emotions. Yes, everyone is human, and in the heat of the battle, it’s difficult to stay calm and focused, particularly when you feel you’ve been falsely accused and your integrity is being questioned. (That’s why her coach blew it.) But champions rise in these most intense circumstances. They don’t falter. Instead, it was Osaka who was the epitome of grace, class and maturity.

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It’s a shame how all the chaos overshadowed Osaka’s first Grand Slam win and the fact that it was the first time a player from Japan, male or female, won a major singles title. Osaka was overwhelmed by the boos from the crowd -- directed toward the umpire, not her -- during the trophy presentation and admitted she didn’t know what was going on during the match with all the code violations. But she stayed focused and calm, and ousted the six-time U.S. Open champion. Osaka deserved to experience joy after winning, not embarrassment or confusion.

In fact, in the news conference, when Williams was asked if there was something in Osaka’s game that she was not expecting, she replied: "I feel like she was really, really consistent. I think her game is always super consistent. I felt like she played really well. Like I said, she made a lot of shots. She was so focused. I think, you know, whenever I had a break point, she came up with some great serves. Honestly, there's a lot I can learn from her from this match. I hope to learn a lot from that.”

Yes, Serena Williams can still learn how to lose gracefully. And how to stay calm and in control when things don’t go her way.

Follow Ann on Twitter at @AnnLiguori.