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13 Sep 2018

US Open: Umpires Reportedly Considering Boycott of Serena Williams' Matches

In the wake of Saturday’s U.S. Open finals debacle, in which Serena Williams demanded an apology from umpire Carlos Ramos after what she saw as an unfair call (and was subsequently punished for doing so), tennis umpires are reportedly considering collective action, including a boycott of Williams’ future matches.

Two reports coming from out of the U.K. yesterday—one from the Times of London, the other from The Guardian—detail some of the murmurings. The Times, citing one anonymous official, says umpires did not feel “supported” following the match, and felt that Ramos was “thrown to the wolves for simply doing his job and was not willing to be abused for it.”

The official also claims that umpires are considering boycotting Williams’ matches, an unprecedented move against one of the sport’s all time greats—and greatest economic drivers.
The Guardian (h/t Washington Post) also reports that umpires felt voiceless in the controversy, and that Ramos was “hung out to dry.” While umpires had been discussing unionizing for a while, the high-profile exchange between Ramos and Williams, in which he ultimately docked a full game from the tennis player, has re-energized talks about having formal representation.

As one senior official told The Guardian, umpires kept asking: “‘What if it was me in that chair on Saturday?’ There is a widespread feeling that Carlos was hung out to dry for nearly 48 hours and that no one is standing up for officials.”

The tennis world has been divided in its sympathies after finals match, which Naomi Osaka won in straight sets. As the Huffington Post reports, while the Women’s Tennis Association has sided with Williams, saying she wasn’t treated the same way her male peers would have been, world tennis’ governing body, the International Tennis Federation, defended the Portuguese ump. However, part of the consternation among the umpires is that it took the ITF 48 hours to do so.

The controversy stems from an exchange during the second set, when Ramos penalized Williams for receiving coaching. While Williams’ coach, Patrick Mouratoglou, admitted to trying to send signals to his player, he added that the practice was common, and in either case, Williams didn’t see his signals. What’s notable here is that “coaching,” for how ubiquitous it is, isn’t often called by umpires, particularly in such a high-stakes match.

Williams took offense to the call and the insinuation that she was cheating and asked for an apology from Ramos. After Ramos penalized her again for smashing her racket, Williams again voiced her frustration.

“I’ve never cheated, and you owe me an apology. You will never do another one of my matches,” Williams told Ramos.

“And you stole a point from me,” she said. “You’re a thief.”

Ramos docked a game from her, citing “verbal abuse.”

Several of the sports’ most high profile and respected voices have called Ramos’ actions sexist. On Twitter, tennis player James Blake admitted he had “said worse” to an umpire and not gotten penalized. According to the Washington Post, Chris Evert, who has been critical of Williams in the past, said Ramos should have practiced greater discretion in such a high-profile match. This year’s U.S. Open Men’s champion, Novak Djokovic, agreed.

Billie Jean King, women’s rights activist and former world no. 1 women’s tennis player, penned a column in the Post last week stating that Williams had been treated differently from male players.

An umpire boycott of a player’s matches is virtually unheard of. Unpopular calls happen in high-profile matches all the time, as do player confrontations over those calls and public backlashes against both players and game officials. But it’s unfathomable to think of referees boycotting, say, LeBron James’ games over a testy exchange.

Ironically, such a move would give credence to the belief that Williams, who has been fined $17,000 by USTA for Saturday’s penalties, is treated differently for being a black woman in a sport that has traditionally favored white men.

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