Serena Williams has backed her controversial decision to bring a message of equality into the US Open final and refused to condemn fellow tennis champion Martina Navratilova for saying the American’s timing was wrong.
Williams set off a wave of discussion when she incurred three different violations over the course of a bizarre second set in her defeat to Naomi Osaka: first for on-court coaching, then smashing her racket in frustration and finally for verbal abuse toward chair umpire Carlos Ramos.
That last violation incurred a game penalty for Williams, an extraordinarily rare action for Ramos to take in a grand slam final.
Over the course of the fiasco, Williams demanded an apology from the umpire for accusing her of cheating, called him a thief for stealing a point from her, argued with officials and reached the point of tears.
She was graceful during an awkward trophy ceremony for her opponent, Naomi Osaka, but later said she would not have received the penalty if she was a man and claimed she was fighting for women’s equality.
“Had I behaved like that on a tennis court, I would have expected to get everything that happened to Serena,” Navratilova told the New York Times.
“It should’ve ended right there with the point warning, but Serena just couldn’t let it go.”
Navratilova has been a longtime advocate for equality in sport and praised Williams’ efforts in the area – except for her timing.
“She completely had the right message about women’s inequality, but it wasn’t the right time to bring it up,” the 18-time grand slam champion said.
Navratilova’s comments were in opposition to another legend in Billie Jean King, who criticised Ramos for aggravating the situation before acknowledging that Williams was “totally out of line”.
Quizzed by veteran journalist Lisa Wilkinson on Channel 10’s The Project, Williams said nothing – not even a tennis match – would stop her from following in the footsteps of players past by fighting for women’s rights and equality.
“I honestly am just always supportive of women, no matter what, and that’s how I’ve always been,” the 23-time major winner said.
“I feel like Billie Jean King has done the same thing with starting the tour and creating the opportunity for me to play.
“You’re female, you should be able to do even half of what a guy can do. And I feel like right now we are not, as it’s proven, in that same position.”
Williams reiterated that she and coach Patrick Mouratoglou have “never had signals” despite his admission on the night of the final that he was sending a message with his hands.
The tennis star did not answer a question about whether she regretted the decision to break her racquet on the court, with footage showing her publicist stepping in during the interview.
The US Open fined Williams US$10,000 for the “verbal abuse” of Ramos, US$4000 for the coaching warning and US$3000 for smashing her racquet.
Wilkinson said she was told by Williams’ publicist not to ask about the Herald Sun’s controversial cartoon, which has been criticised heavily by the American’s husband Alexis Ohanian.
The world No.16 is set to return to the court at the China Open beginning next week in Beijing.
Top ref brands Serena ‘disrespectful’
Top rugby referee Nigel Owens this week delivered a number of massive truth bombs over Serena Williams’ US Open meltdown.
The respected whistleblower weighed into the debate surrounding Serena’s controversial blow-up and subsequent claims of sexism.
The 47-year-old, who refereed the 2015 Rugby World Cup final, said Serena was ‘disrespectful’ and owes umpire Carlos Ramos an apology.
Owens, who is openly gay, drew comparisons to his own experiences with homophobia to say Serena’s claims have only served to ‘belittle’ the sexism debate.
“Imagine someone said something to me which I didn’t like and I called it homophobic, when it wasn’t, because I knew that would give more weight to the accusation,” Owens wrote for WalesOnline.
“I’d view that as unacceptable behaviour on my part. It’s something I would never do.
“It’s wrong, but I also wouldn’t do it because it takes away from the real issues we do need to address.
“In a way, Serena is belittling the sexism debate, when there are people who should be properly called out for that kind of thing, homophobia or racism.
“Her actions do not particularly help that cause because what Ramos did was not sexist.”
Owens took exception to the fact that Serena had called Ramos a ‘thief’.
“In calling Ramos a ‘thief’, and accusing him of sexism, Serena was in effect calling a highly respected official a cheat,” Owens wrote.
“One, by the way, who has no history for that sort of thing and who has handled matches, men and women, perfectly fairly and with integrity.
“Ramos has a reputation of being a ridiculously strict umpire, in men’s and women’s tennis, so the accusation of sexism is difficult to understand.”
Owens went on to call for more respect to be shown to officials in all sports.
“What you want from a match official, be that a tennis umpire, rugby referee, football referee, or whatever sport, is consistency — not only in refereeing from week to week, but more so within a particular match. This is important and I will explain why.
“Just like Serena learning off her coach when she has had a below par performance or could have done something different in a game, or better in hindsight — something she invariably puts right next time by learning and improving — so we as referees can learn from our own experiences.
“We fully accept we don’t get it right every time.”