Serena Williams is back in the top 10 tennis rankings for the first time since having her first child in September of 2017.
In September of 2018, Williams received 3 code violations and lost the Grand Slam to Naomi Osaka. After being penalized for receiving coaching and racquet abuse, Williams was penalized for verbal abuse after calling the umpire a thief for taking a point from her. Williams and many of her supporters believed the violation to be unfair and sexist, arguing that male players have displayed similar or worse behavior in the past and have not been penalized for it.
“To lose a game for saying that is not fair,” Williams said. “There’s a lot of men out here that have said a lot of things, and because they are men, that doesn’t happen.”
JBU sophomore and tennis player Sam Spencer also thought that the coaching and verbal abuse violations may not have been fair.
“What her coach was doing happens all the time and it is never called, so that fact that the umpire called it in the final of all places was more unfortunate for Serena,” he said. “And personally I think her anger was justified- it lead her to lose the rest of the match.”
Others felt that the code violations were fair and that the controversy was taking away from Osaka’s victory, such as Mac Berman, a sports writer for the New York Post.
“[Williams] needed to move on, needed to see if Osaka could close this one out,” Berman wrote. “Osaka was absolutely terrific and it shouldn’t be lost in Serena’s historic meltdown.”
The controversy deepened when political cartoonist Mark Knight released a cartoon depicting Williams angrily stomping on her racquet, with a pacifier on the ground next to her and the umpire in the background telling Osaka to “let her win.” The cartoon received immediate blowback due to many people’s claims that it was sexist and racist due to William’s exaggerated features and the portrayal of Osaka as a blonde, faceless woman.
Joanne Murray, more commonly known as J.K. Rowling, was one of many celebrities to condemn the cartoon.
“Well done on reducing one of the greatest sportswomen alive to racist and sexist tropes and turning a second great sportswoman into a faceless prop,” Murray tweeted.
Amidst the controversy, the International Tennis Federation reviewed the circumstances around the violations, and stood by umpire Carlos Ramos.
“Carlos Ramos is one of the most experienced and respected umpires in tennis,” their statement read. “Mr. Ramos’ decisions were in accordance with the relevant rules and were reaffirmed by the US Open’s decision to fine Serena Williams for the three offenses.”
JBU freshman and tennis player Sydney Smith respected this outcome. “It’s the ref’s job to make those calls,” Smith said, “I don’t think it was as much about gender as I think he was doing it because that’s what he saw.”
Less than a year after the controversy, Williams is back in the top 10 tennis rankings. Williams was ranked as low as 491st after returning to competition in March of 2018, but is up to the top 10 after advancing to two Grand Slam finals in the months since.
Williams is also set to present at the 2019 Oscars. Williams will allegedly present “A Star is Born,” a musical that has received 8 Oscar nominations including “Best Motion Picture of the Year.”
After an eventful year, Williams has reclaimed her high tennis ranking and remains a popular and largely admired public figure.
“She’s definitely made a mark for women in tennis and shown what we can do, especially for the black community,” Smith said. “She’s an inspiration for children who want to grow up and play tennis.”