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In a stunning upset, Serena Williams lost the U.S. Open finals to 20-year-old Haitian-Japanese player Naomi Osaka on Saturday night.
But while the world now knows Osaka’s name and fans in her native Tokyo rejoice, a specter overshadowed her victory. Williams was penalized three times during the match by umpire Carlos Ramos. One of the code violations? She called him a “thief,” which cost Williams a game in the second set.
"You owe me an apology!"— ESPN (@espn) September 8, 2018
Serena was fired up with the official in the final set of the US Open final. pic.twitter.com/r6RSbrirnV
In her post-match press conference, Williams pointed out that she’d seen male players call umpires worse names, without receiving the same penalties.
Williams handled her loss with grace, encouraging Osaka and telling her fans not to boo during the trophy ceremony. However, coverage of the match focused on Williams’ frustration with the umpire. The BBC referred to Williams’ “meltdown” and “outbursts,” and the New York Daily News reminded readers that, “This wasn’t the first time Serena Williams faced controversy at the U.S. Open.”
But as Williams said on the court and reiterated afterward, she felt it imperative to stand up for women in the sport who, she maintains, are held to a different standard than men.
“He’s never taken a game from a man because they said ‘thief,'” Williams said. “But I’ve seen other men call other umpires several things.”
On the court, Williams referenced her young daughter and her continuing fight for gender parity.
“I’m here fighting for women’s rights and for women’s equality and for all kinds of stuff,” Williams said later.
Tennis legend Billie Jean King took to Twitter to defend Williams.
(1/2) Several things went very wrong during the @usopen Women’s Finals today. Coaching on every point should be allowed in tennis. It isn’t, and as a result, a player was penalized for the actions of her coach. This should not happen.— Billie Jean King (@BillieJeanKing) September 9, 2018
(2/2) When a woman is emotional, she’s “hysterical” and she’s penalized for it. When a man does the same, he’s “outspoken” & and there are no repercussions. Thank you, @serenawilliams, for calling out this double standard. More voices are needed to do the same.— Billie Jean King (@BillieJeanKing) September 9, 2018
As did Ellen DeGeneres.
Reese Witherspoon did, too.
What a match! Congrats @Naomi_Osaka_ on your win and making history today! And @serenawilliams you powerhouse - thank you for standing up for women everywhere. #USOpen #UsOpenFinal pic.twitter.com/pfzrM95KTX— Reese Witherspoon (@RWitherspoon) September 9, 2018
And Chelsea Clinton,
White folks tweeting about the unfair treatment of Serena Williams, remember that the next time you report your Black woman co-worker.— Charlene Carruthers (@CharleneCac) September 9, 2018
What happened to Serena happens to Black women in the workplace everyday.
See Serena Williams throwing tantrums again. Oh no, it’s the legend John McEnroe. Kindly look away. Can’t punish this one or debate it too hard. pic.twitter.com/NdUdK616hN— JJ. Omojuwa (@Omojuwa) September 9, 2018
Williams has been criticized for being vocal on the tennis court before, and this isn’t her only controversy during this year’s Grand Slam circuit. She was banned from wearing a Black Panther-esque catsuit at future French Open tournaments, stirring up cries of racism, which she’s faced throughout her career.
Ellen Ioanes is the FOIA reporter at the Daily Dot, where she covers U.S. politics. She is a graduate of Columbia Journalism School, and her work has appeared in the Guardian, the Center for Public Integrity, HuffPost India, and more.