Tennis’ Double Standard


Naomi Osaka became Japan’s first tennis player to win a Grand Slam at the 2018 U.S. Open against legend Serena Williams. That right there should be enough to make headlines, but the spotlight wasn’t on her tennis.

Instead, what made headlines was the Serena Williams’ umpire controversy. She was first issued a warning for communicating with her coach during the match (a rule that is supposedly rarely enforced). The second violation came when Williams busted her racket on the court, and the third when she called umpire Carlos Ramos a “thief.” According to USTA rules, the first code violation comes with a warning, the second with a point penalty, and the third with a game penalty.

The debate isn’t over whether or not Williams broke the rules, it’s pretty obvious that she did. Instead, debate has arisen over whether Ramos doled out punishment fairly, in a sport that has a history of coming down harder on its female players than its male players.

Japan’s Naomi Osaka wins U.S. Open (via Business Insider UK)

According to Vox, Ramos has had arguments with male tennis greats Novak Djokovic, Andy Murray, and Rafael Nadal, but didn’t penalize them the same way he did Williams. Ramos also has a history of issuing violations to female players, including Serena’s sister Venus in 2016 for receiving coaching on the court, a violation she denied.

Male tennis players like Jimmy Connors and John McEnroe were known and even celebrated during their careers for their explosive behavior and unpredictable temper on the court. When the recent incident involving Williams is contextualized within tennis history, the double standard in officiating seems obvious. Men are allowed to blow up on the court, but God-forbid a female player show any emotion or anger.


Activist Lily Herman argues in Refinery29 that this is just another example of the disrespect women face in sports. She points out how female player Alize Cornet received a violation for quickly flipping around her backwards shirt on the court, while male player Novak Djokovic received no such violation for walking around the court shirtless.

Tennis legend Billie Jean King took to Twitter to defend Williams, saying that when a “woman is emotional, she’s ‘hysterical’ and she’s penalized for it. When a man does the same, he’s ‘outspoken’ & there are no repercussions.” King also penned an op-ed for the Washington Post, arguing that Williams’ true character shown through when at the end of the match, she turned the attention back to Osaka, who had just won her first U.S. Open, albeit under unusual circumstances. “Ultimately, a woman was penalized for standing up for herself,” King concludes.

As Herman points out, tennis isn’t the only sport that refuses to give women the respect they deserve. She points to USA gymnastics, swimming, and taekwondo, all institutions rampant with sexual abuse, as other cases where women’s voices are respected. Obviously, an instance of unfair sexist mistreatment cannot be compared to years of sexual abuse, but the underlying theme of women’s voices and respect being systematically devalued remains the same. Women are still not treated as equals on the court, on the field, in the gym, and that needs to change.

Cover image via New Haven Register.