Ranjona Banerji: Drama over Context

11 Sep,2018

By Ranjona Banerji


The tennis world, the sports world and some of the larger world in general has gone up in arms over the women’s final at the US Open this year. The match was between 23-time Grand Slam champion Serena Williams, 36, and the young challenger, Naomi Osaka, 20, played on September 8. Williams, had a huge bust up with the chair umpire Carlos Ramos and lost the match. Or rather, she was outplayed tennis-wise by Osaka in the first set 6-2 and done in by her own behaviour and penalties from the umpire and Osaka’s unshaken resolve in the second set, 6-4. Before we get carried away, Osaka won, defeating her childhood idol in one of the most controversial matches in recent history.

Social media blew up as Serena’s fight with the umpire overshadowed everything else. She was either defended vociferously or attacked. The winner was forgotten although Serena Williams was very gracious towards the end of the awards ceremony, asking the crowd to stop booing and to congratulate the winner.

But the former champion’s fight with the umpire was very ugly and all media attention turned to that. For some, it was drama no matter what, so all her previous transgressions were pulled up. For others, it was victimisation of Williams for being female and for being African American, for others questioning Williams was sexism because men got away with everything and the tennis world was skewed towards men. Little bits of truth everywhere but also huge amounts of hyperbole. The USTA and US Open were also partisan in their responses after the match. It took the International Tennis Federation, which runs the Grand Slams, three days to respond in support of the umpire.


There is that other media trend as well: Something happens, huge response on social media and then editors say, ‘O that is a story’ and comments overtake the events. In all this, the rules of tennis, the way they are applied, people who have suffered or got away with it, are all forgotten or lost in the cacophony of outrage, this way or that.

Luckily, some commentators and officials have spoken out. In the following tennis podcast below, tennis journalists Matt Zemek and Saqib Ali discuss with Andrew Burton and Mert Ertunga, how coaching rules can be tweaked, how umpiring guidelines can be changed, the role of the umpire in such pressure moments. The essence of the problem for tennis lies here.


Matt Zemek also wrote this piece here:


Jon Weirthem summed up events in his Sports Illustrated column, covering all angles:



The great Billie Jean King wrote a piece in defence of Serena Williams and asked for all coaching to be made legal because everyone does it. Coaching from the players’ box is currently illegal although the WTA does allow some on-court coaching. The men’s game does not. There is enough cause for debate here, and as a tennis fan, I would disagree.



Martina Navratilova, another tennis great, has written a well-calibrated and reasoned analysis of the whole drama which really is the last word as far as I’m concerned.




As other tennis journalists pointed out, the biggest disservice was done to Naomi Osaka, who won the final fairly and on her tennis.

This piece from Zenia D’Cunha breaks down events from Osaka’s perspective:



And here’s an interesting article on umpires and what they earn.



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