I never watch tennis. For some reason, though, I was watching the finals of the US Open on the women’s side. As it so happened, I tuned in about 10 minutes before the controversy started. So, I watched this unfold in real time. The real question seems to be “was Serena treated unfairly by the umpire?”

I’ve included ESPN’s video of the “highlights” of the match, starting with the play where the umpire called Serena’s coach for…um…”coaching”, I guess?

So, at the 30 second mark of this video, Serena goes over to the Umpire (he’s the guy who sits in the big lifeguard chair by the net) to let him know…REALLY KNOW…that there was no coaching going on because, “I don’t cheat”.

This is the pivotal moment because the two subsequent code violations are carry-overs from this. So, it really, really matters whether there was any truth to the umpire’s call that Serena’s coach was coaching from the stands. If only we had a definitive answer to that question. Like, if the coach admitted to doing it. Oh, yeah, he totally did exactly that. Check out the video (above) at the 12:52 mark.

So, the umpire called coaching which the coach admits to doing. That call, by the way, is against the one doing the coaching. Although it counts as a code violation, it in no way is meant to suggest that the PLAYER is cheating. I heard a lot of the commentators echoing what Serena’s coach said, that he was just doing what every other coach does. I also get that Serena isn’t a player that needs coaching during a match. In fact, in events where coaching from the sidelines is allowed, Serena is one player who doesn’t use coaching, even when that’s an option open to her. So, I understand why Serena is insulted. It wasn’t something that she did, per se, or that was anything she could control.

But, what she could control was everything that happened after that.

At the 1:38 mark, you see a frustrated Serena break her racquet. In writing this blog I spent a good hour watching video of other code violations in both men’s and women’s tennis. From what I can tell, intentionally smashing your racquet is almost ALWAYS a code violation. It’s also something that lots and lots of player, men and women alike but mostly men, do a lot.

But, this one is all on Serena. She didn’t HAVE to smash her racquet. If she’d been ahead in this match instead of behind she probably wouldn’t have.

At this point you’ve got two code violations. The first one was nobody’s fault (maybe her coach?) and the second one was totally on Serena. But, how about the third code violation?

Go to the 2:30 mark in the video. Serena is confused as to why the next game is started 15-Love, with Serena at a one point advantage. When she goes to question the umpire he explains that since it was the second violation, it’s a one point penalty. It’s then that Serena goes back to the first penalty, the coaching from the stands. She adamantly insists that she didn’t cheat (the umpire never accused her of cheating) and…so, what? He supposed to go back and retroactively ignore the first violation. That’s not how umpiring, refereeing or judging works in ANY sport I’m aware of.

Can you imagine if, in basketball, Labron James was called for his fourth foul which he insists he didn’t commit? Then, a few minutes later in the game he’s called for another foul, meaning he’s out of the game, he goes back and argues, not against that foul but against the one that happened a few minutes before?

Should the referee change the call and let Labron stay in the game because he really, really says he didn’t do it AND he’s the top superstar in the sport? Yeah, superstars tend to get away with a lot but even a star like Labron wouldn’t expect a ref to reverse a decision he made early in the game. “Well, if Labron says it wasn’t a foul, who am I, as a referee, to doubt him. Let’s just forget about that one and, my heartfelt apologies to you, sir!”.

That would never happen, obviously.

The third code violation begins to unfold at the 4:12 mark when Serena continues to complain to the umpire about that first call. She insists that he has demeaned her honor and that he has called her a “cheater”. Again, the first violation was called against her coach, a violation which he ADMITTED to following the match. For the next minute, Serena continues to demand her apology which the umpire never proffers. After that Serena tells the umpire that if he won’t give her an apology, “Then don’t talk to me”.

This incident could have ended RIGHT THERE because the umpire does as Serena suggests and stops talking to her. This could have been the end of it. But Serena must not have been happy with that because at the 4:36 mark, a scant 10 seconds after telling him not to talk to her, Serena is back on him again. “How dare you accuse me of cheating?” The umpire remains silent, per Ms. William’s previous request. THIS STILL could have been THE END OF IT! But it isn’t, because, before going back onto the court, at the 5:01 mark, Serena calls the umpire a “thief” who “stole a point” from her.

Wait just a minute, though. Umpire Carlos Ramos didn’t smash Serena’s racquet. Carlos Ramos didn’t verbally harass HER. Carlos Ramos didn’t tell SERENA to shut up. As far as I can tell, up until the point of the third violation, the only thing Ramos did “wrong” was to rule that Serena’s coach was coaching her from the stands, which the coach admitted to a few minutes later.

The final point, and the one that Serena is citing as her “just cause” is that men say more abusive things that she did and get away with it. Is this true? In some cases, undoubtedly. But, watching tennis videos going back to the Connor’s and McEnroe days, I’ve seen men get a verbal abuse violation for calling an umpire “jerk” or questioning the quality of their eyesight. Are those things not as bad as being called a “theif”. I don’t know.

Like I said, I don’t follow tennis.

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