Williams’ “form’’ in verbally attacking officials is more pronounced compared to the three leading men of the past 10 years – Nadal, Roger Federer and Novak Djokovic. Picture: Julian Finney/Getty Images
Williams’ “form’’ in verbally attacking officials is more pronounced compared to the three leading men of the past 10 years – Nadal, Roger Federer and Novak Djokovic. Picture: Julian Finney/Getty Images

Tantrums one thing not to love about tennis

MARK off an area 23.7m by 8.2m. Dot cameras and microphones liberally around it.

Throw ingredients such as ambition, nerves, insecurities, desperation, fears, and sometimes, millions and millions of dollars.

Simmer for an hour or three in front of thousands of spectators, throw in a worldwide television audience, and there you have the time-honoured recipe for the player blow-ups in tennis.

Serena Williams tirade over an umpire officiating, in which she called him a "thief'', during her US Open final loss on Sunday is only the latest example of major tennis matches being a stage for behaviour that sometimes fascinates and repels.

Williams called umpire Carlos Ramos, officiating her loss to Japan's Naomi Osaka, a "thief'' and accused him of "stealing a point'' from her in a second set in which he found she had illegally received coaching signals, broke her racquet in anger and then verbally abused him.

The incident quickly became the centre of a debate about alleged sexism and racism in tennis and society, with Williams claiming she had been standing up for all women so the next player would not be treated as she had.

Williams, a 23-time Grand Slam singles champion, knows what sexism and racism looks like, as an African-American woman who grew up in a rough Californian neighbourhood.

Outside of that debate, the American champion has irrevocably joined the titans of bad tennis behaviour towards umpires, led by John McEnroe, Jimmy Connors, Ilie Nastase and, occasionally, in the modern era, by Nick Kyrgios.

YouTube carries greatest hits packages of the 1980s and 1990s excesses of McEnroe and Connors.

 

John McEnroe argues point with umpire, during the 1980 Wimbledon men's semi final. Picture: Central Press
John McEnroe argues point with umpire, during the 1980 Wimbledon men's semi final. Picture: Central Press

 

Unlike Williams, who seems to become argumentative in a match only when she is behind - it's happened during four losses at the US Open alone - the two American men would use and sometimes fabricate a dispute over officiating to raise their level of determination in a match when in front.

There are images, for example, of McEnroe, the flawed genius of tennis, standing in disbelief at the 1990 Australian Open when he realised he did not know that the number of code violations needed to result in a default had been changed, and he had abused the umpire one time too many in his match.

Or of him telling one umpire that he was "the pits of the world'', another that he was an "incompetent fool'' and exhorting a third to "answer the question, the question, jerk''.

 

Nick Kyrgios talks with the chair umpire between games after receiving a code violation for telling a spectator to shut up at the Australian Open. Picture: Michael Klein
Nick Kyrgios talks with the chair umpire between games after receiving a code violation for telling a spectator to shut up at the Australian Open. Picture: Michael Klein

 

The introduction of the Hawk-Eye line calling technology at Grand Slam events from 2007 vastly reduced the reasons for players to argue about line calls in matches because they cannot win an argument with technology.

When a tennis dispute on Sunday merged into the motorway lanes of America's fierce debates about sexism and racism, Billie Jean King, one of the founders of the women's tour in the early 1970s, defended Williams to the hilt.

In a column for The Washington Post, King claimed "women are treated differently in most arenas of life (and) this is especially true for women of colour''.

"What played out on the court (in the US Open final) happens far too often. Ultimately, a woman was penalised for standing up for herself,'' King added.

"Did Ramos treat Williams differently than male players have been treated? I think he did."

Richard Ings, a former Sydney umpire who docked McEnroe a point and then a game in a 1987 US Open match for verbal abuse directed at him, disagreed.

"I've sat in that umpire's chair and I know he didn't,'' said Ings, who reinforced that Ramos had been correct in all three calls against Williams.

 

A Sept. 12, 2009, file photo of Serena Williams arguing with line judge Shino Tsurubuchi over a foot fault call during her match against Kim Clijsters at the US Open. Picture: AP/Darron Cummings
A Sept. 12, 2009, file photo of Serena Williams arguing with line judge Shino Tsurubuchi over a foot fault call during her match against Kim Clijsters at the US Open. Picture: AP/Darron Cummings

 

Supporters of Williams pointed out that men's world No.1 Rafael Nadal had told Ramos in a 2018 French Open that he would never umpire a match of his again, as did Williams on Sunday.

One difference in the two instances is that Nadal did not also impugn the integrity of the umpire, as Williams did, by calling him a "thief''.

Williams' "form'' in verbally attacking officials is more pronounced compared to the three leading men of the past 10 years - Nadal, Roger Federer and Novak Djokovic.

Nine years ago in a US Open loss, Williams yelled at a lineswoman over a double-fault call: "I swear to God I'll f---ing take the ball and shove it down your f---ing throat."

In a 2011 US Open loss, Williams told Greek umpire Eva Asderaki she was "unattractive inside'' and a "loser". "I completely despise you," she added, in case Asderaki was in any confusion.



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