Williams lost the plot, the battle and the war

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by Syed Naqvi

The afternoon of Sept. 8, 2018 was a contrasting one for two very different yet similar tennis players.

Naomi Osaka was showcasing her talent for the very first time to the global audience and battling against all odds to defeat her idol. Serena Williams was determined to regain her formal glory by winning a record-tying 24th Grand Slam title of her career.he afternoon of Sept. 8, 2018 was a contrasting one for two very different yet similar tennis players.

Just like this juxtaposition, the match went back and forth until one emerged victorious and, in the process solidifying her status as perhaps the breakout star of women’s tennis this year.

Unfortunately, all was not smooth sailing as Williams, one of the greatest tennis players of all time, was involved in a match-defining scuffle with Match Umpire Carlos Ramos.

It was perhaps not only a match-defining scuffle, but the back-and-forth between Williams and the Ramos, in the eyes of some observers, pointed to a far greater pandemic of sexism in the world of sports.

Whilst it is certainly true that since their inception, females have always played the second fiddle to their male counterparts in all the sports, as Sofina Lin, an undergraduate student who participates in various sports, noted,

“As a woman studying at the University of Waterloo who is also involved in sports clubs, I still do notice sexism in sports around me.”

Research from the Canadian Association for the Advancement of Women and Sport and Physical Activity (CAAWS) shows that only 19 percent of Canadian women participate in sports, compared to 35 percent of Canadian men.

Even though this statistic is a damning indictment of the society in which we live, we still have come a long way in terms of bridging the gap between the inequality that persists in the participation of both the sexes in various sports and, as the statistic shows, we still have a long way to go. And likewise Ms. Lin also concurs with the abovementioned claim,

“…I see an improvement and an increase of young women participating in sports teams and clubs here at the University of Waterloo.”

But, Williams’ outburst at the final of US Open unfortunately had nothing to do with sexism and everything to do with her being outplayed by someone who was just a year old when Williams won her first Grand Slam title — which was coincidentally also a US Open — in 1999.

Sceptics will point out the fact Ramos, using his position of authority and his bias against the opposite gender, unnecessarily took away a game, and subsequently, the title from Williams.

However, one simple observation crushes the theory that Ramos was against Williams due to her gender, because Naomi Osaka, who defeated Williams, is also a female tennis player.

Hence, if Umpire Ramos was a sexist, as was suggested by Williams’ remark, then he would have needed to find neither Williams nor Osaka win the title.

Furthermore, over the years, Ramos has been known as a stickler for the rules of the game and his stringent conduct on the court has had its male victims as well.

Case in point, going back to French Open 2017 where Rafael Nadal, the eventual champion said, “I say it with sadness, but he is an umpire who scrutinises me more and who fixates on me more.”

And if we go back to the Rio Olympics in 2016, the same umpire issued Andy Murray a code violation for allegedly overhearing Murray calling him “stupid”.

During the break in the game Murray even clarified what he said by pointing out to Ramos that he uttered the phrase “stupid umpiring” not “stupid umpire”.

But despite all of Murray’s clarifications, Ramos stuck to his principles and paid no heed to Murray’s pleas. And compared to Williams’ allegations against Ramos, Murray’s remarks seem quite innocuous.

To further quell any doubts regarding Ramos’ decisions in the final, the International Tennis Federation (ITF) — the sports governing body — said that Ramos’ calls in the final were, “were in accordance with the relevant rules” and that his behaviour at all times depicted, “professionalism and integrity.”

And if that was not enough Martina Navratilova, one of the greatest tennis players of all times in New York Times op-ed piece, said, “… we cannot measure ourselves by what we think we should also be able to get away with,” after which she added, “in fact, this is the sort of behaviour that no one should be engaging in on the court.”

Hence, the final of this year’s US Open, if anything, proved Williams inability to accept defeat. And despite representing the U.S. in multiple Olympics, I am of the opinion, that Williams still has not grasped the metaphor associated with the passing of the torch at the opening ceremonies of Olympics.

Because it is important that Williams understands that her biggest nemesis in her match with Osaka was not Ramos, or all the men in the world for that matter — it was time.

In a week’s time she will be 37, and it is quite obvious that the tennis player we saw at the US Open 1999 is now just a former shell of herself.

Additionally, those who want to hail Williams as some sort of a victim of misogyny should instead focus their attention to Naomi Osaka.

This is because if there is anyone who is a victim in this situation it is her. Williams with her meltdown at the final stole all the limelight from her.

In fact if you typed US Open in Google’s search bar, then almost all the stories will be about Carlos Ramos and Serena Williams.

As a matter of fact, Williams’ tantrums in the final went against tenets of feminism, because she completely overshadowed and, worse still, turned the whole crowd against Osaka and made her public enemy No. 1. So instead of supporting another woman who is destined to be her successor in tennis and perhaps in the fight for equality between genders, Williams stole the platform from right under the feet of Osaka.