On Saturday, September 8th, 2018, Naomi Osaka was the first Japanese woman to win the US Open grand slam title. Arguably this was under the false pretense of points being “stolen” by the chair umpire Carlos Ramos. This is an unfortunate turn of the story, which should be a celebration of Naomi’s win over Serena.

tl;dr - Ramos is right, and Serena lost her cool under the immense pressure of a grand slam final, and she took it out on Ramos.

Let me first say, I can only imagine the intense emotions that the players must go through during the day of a match like that. Having to rely on one’s skill for a day-of performance is a huge burden for any individual, and puts a huge amount stress on that person.

Here is a link to another story of a chair umpire calling code violations on John McEnroe. McEnroe is well known for throwing harsh comments and getting angry during a tennis match. This is evidence that he was penalized for it. For reference, each additional code violation that Serena would have incurred would have cost her an additional game.

The Coaching Gesture:

I don’t know what this sign is, but it clearly means something other than a thumbs-up. Ramos undoubtedly saw this, and Serena’s reaction to this gesture, and called out the coach for it. Regardless, the coach admitted he was coaching, so the code violation is valid, and should act as a warning to the player to be on one’s best behavior.

Here is the full ESPN highlight reel of the exchange:

At about 1:39, Serena breaks her racket after her serve is broken. Both men and women are called for this code violation, and it happens quite often. There should be no dispute that this is a code of conduct warning, and given it is the second, incurs a point penalty.

Regarding calling Ramos a “Thief”, we can go to the official ATP tennis rule book. Quoting from the section on verbal abuse:

 Verbal abuse is defined as any statement about an official,
 opponent, sponsor, spectator or any other person that
 implies dishonesty or is derogatory, insulting or
 otherwise abusive

Calling Ramos a “Thief” is implying he is dishonest, and is a code violation according to these rules. Also, for what it’s worth, at 4:09 in the above video, she also calls him a liar. Ramos sat back trying not to aggravate the situation any further than it already was. I doubt that I would have been this calm with thousands of screaming fans watching.

Conclusion

It is very unfortunate that Naomi Osaka should win in this way. I wish this entire article could be about how amazing she was playing; which she was during the first set, and first several games of the second set before any controversy started.

My personal opinion is that the rule about coaching should be changed. But Ramos made the right call for the rules as they are written today. Some potential suggestions for the rule change:

  • If the coach is coaching the player, eject the coach from the game, don’t penalize the player for something out of her control.
  • Or, fully allow coaching, and have the coaches on the court with the players, as in other team sports. Arguably this changes the equation of tennis, since it is supposed to be two players against each other, with no outside influence, but I personally don’t have a problem with this change.

I’d like to think that if Ramos had said something to Serena like “You just called me a lair, which is technically a code violation. If you don’t stop arguing about this point, I’m going to call it on you and you’ll lose a game for this.” However, given how emotionally charged the situation was, I think it would have only intensified Serena’s response. Ramos did the best he could, and given his job of enforcing the rules, he is the “bad guy” no matter the outcome of such exchanges.