Comment: Absence of apology from Serena Williams even more damning than US Open disgrace

Michael Graham
Serena Williams press conference

A week or so on from Serena Williams’ astonishing outburst at the US Open, Michael Graham wonders whether the absence of apology from the 23-time Grand Slam champion is actually the most damning thing to come out of the incident.

It has been almost a week now since the tennis world looked on in slack-jawed astonishment as Serena Williams’ US Open hopes evaporated before our eyes.

It is no exaggeration to say it has absolutely dominated the tennis agenda since, sparking debate and comment from just about everyone.

It is fair to say that, within that, there is a lot of sympathy for Serena Williams and, to cut to the chase, there shouldn’t be.

Don’t get me wrong, I felt for her at the time, and I understood the emotion that eventually bubbled over within her. Clearly, winning the
US Open again, especially as a mother, would be an enormous personal achievement and it meant a lot to her.

And that’s not a gender thing. It’s a parent thing. I am a parent and I know first hand that it changes your perspective and attaches greater meaning to your own achievements when your children are able to share them.

Novak Djokovic said the same thing after winning Wimbledon – the first major he won since becoming a parent.

“It feels amazing because for the first time in my life I have someone screaming ‘daddy, daddy’ and it’s a little boy right there,” Djokovic said.

“I didn’t talk about it, but it was one of – if not the biggest – motivation I’ve had for this Wimbledon this year.

2018 US Open Serena Williams Naomi Osaka

“I was visualising, imagining this moment of him coming to the stands, cherishing this moment with my wife and me and everyone.

“It’s hard to describe. It is a moment that I will carry inside of my heart forever.”

And herein lies the problem: The very fact I felt the need to specify, and back it up, that speaking out against Williams is not motivated by sexism means that it’s gone way too far.

Because, let’s be completely and brutally honest here – Serena Williams’ behaviour on that tennis court was an absolute disgrace. Not just her behaviour, either, but the self-entitled bratty attitude of which it was borne.

There are two versions of what happened. The first is Williams’ version. That she was accused of cheating by receiving coaching, reacted out of pride and anger, and was then unfairly victimised by an umpire who would not have done the same to a male player.

That version of events has been picked up and ran with by Billie Jean King too, who said: “When a woman is emotional, she’s hysterical’ and she’s penalized for it.

2018 US Open Serena Williams Naomi Osaka

“When a man does the same, he’s ‘outspoken’ and there are no repercussions.

“Thank you, Serena Williams, for calling out this double standard. More voices are needed to do the same.”

Except, that doesn’t really wash, does it? The umpire, Carlos Ramos, has given code violations to, and had resulting clashes with, plenty of male players, including Rafael Nadal, Novak Djokovic, and Andy Murray.

He’s a well-known stickler for the rules, and Serena Williams can’t possibly be unaware of it, especially given sister Venus also received a coaching violation from him at the 2016 French Open.

The difference here was that, while Venus respectfully pleaded her case, had her say, and moved on, Serena didn’t.

Because the second version of events, the actual version of events, goes something like this: Serena Williams, already a set down, completely lost her composure and completely and repeatedly berated a chair umpire with a total absence of respect, and then cried sexism and victimisation when he decided he’d had enough of it. It was a bratty temper tantrum from a bad loser.

Williams, as she was keen to remind everyone when she wanted to hide her indignation behind it, is not lacking in maturity. She knows how this works.

The coaching rule is quite clear in two separate ways. Firstly, complicity from the player is not required for a penalty and, secondly, the player is responsible for their coach’s behaviour.

Her coach admitted he was coaching, or trying to, so the punishment gets ported onto the player. The rule was applied fairly. It’s not even up for debate.

Patrick Mouratoglu Serena Williams coach
Patrick Mouratoglu Serena Williams coach

Could Ramos have communicated better to defuse the situation? May be explain to Serena that it was her coach at fault, not her? Probably. Perhaps he even would have had he been given the chance to get a word in edge-ways?

Perhaps he felt no obligation, as I’m sure has happened to the rest of us one time or another, to go out of his way to appease someone who was doing nothing but hurling abuse at him.

The point is, it’s a debate over how the fair application of the rule should have been sugar-coated, NOT whether or not the rule was applied fairly or not in the first place. It was. It’s inarguable.

As was the second penalty, which Serena didn’t contest. She just let it get her more angry about the first one, because without that the second one wouldn’t have cost her a point.

But whether she thought she should be on a warning or not, the fact is that she still knew she was. Controlling her anger is then her responsibility. She couldn’t do it. She smashed a racket knowing what it would cost her.

But again, that was apparently all the umpire’s fault, not hers.

It was exactly the same minutes later, when, knowing she was already two notches up the penalty system and in full knowledge of what the third level would bring, she decided to berate the official for the third and fourth time.

‘Hysterical’ is actually the kindest way to describe it. Persistent, deliberate targeted abuse and attempted bullying and intimidation is the accurate way.

Since then, and despite all that, we’ve had Billy Jean King apologising to her for having to go through it, we’ve had the WTA all but apologising to her, we’ve had Naomi Osaka actually apologising for beating her – you know, like you do a small child when they huff at you for not letting them beat you at snap – and we’ve even had a cartoonist apologise for drawing it.

The one person who does actually owe everyone an apology, meanwhile, is Serena Williams, and she’s quietly – and completely happily – playing the victim.

And that is more damning of her character than anything that happened on Arthur Ashe court that night. She’s no longer emotional about it, she’s no longer angry about it. Her actions are not longer impeded nor her judgement clouded by the heat of the moment. She appears to genuinely see nothing wrong about anything she did, and that makes it very hard to feel any sympathy for her what-so-ever.

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