No Serena, Carlos Ramos is neither a cheat nor a thief - He is a man doing his job

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When a player wins his/her maiden Grand Slam title, it is the completion of a target they have set for themselves. But forget living out a dream, newly crowned US Open Champions Naomi Osaka endured a nightmare and there was only one person to blame for it - not Carlos Ramos, but Serena Williams.

It all started in the second game of the second set with Osaka leading 40-15. Serena had just hit her forehand long and turned around to her coach. As Osaka got ready to serve, Carlos Ramos, who would be turned into a villain by the end of the night, gave the American a warning for coaching. Serena should have just taken one on the chin and moved on but she walked up to the official and proclaimed, “If he gives me a thumbs up, he is telling me to come on. We don’t have any code and I know that you don’t know that and I understand why you may have thought that that was coaching. But I am telling you that it was not. I don’t cheat to win. I’d rather lose. I am just letting you know.” 

Let’s take a moment and just look at the facts. "Players shall not receive coaching during a match (including the warm-up). Communications of any kind, audible or visible, between a player and a coach may be construed as coaching," reads the rule in Section L of the ‘Article III - Player On-Site Offense’. Is this rule a joke because of what happens in every single match of every single tournament? Of course, it is! But does that mean that if a player breaks the rule and gets caught doing it, the player should not be penalized? Well if you listen to the chatter after the final, you would think so because apparently everyone does it, which it makes it right. Serena was adamant that she didn’t cheat. While she might have gotten the benefit of the doubt, Patrick Mouratoglou’s comments after the game were like a Mike Tyson knockout punch. 

“I was coaching. I don’t think she looked at me so that’s why she didn’t even think I was. A hundred percent of the coaches, (coach) on a hundred percent of the matches. So we have to stop this hypocrisy. It is strange because this chair umpire (Ramos) was the umpire in most of Rafael Nadal’s matches and Tony (Nadal) is coaching every single point. And he never gave a warning. So I don’t really get it,” Mouratoglou said after the match. While it might have been harsh that she was singled out in the final of a Grand Slam, it was nothing more than a slap on the wrist. No points deducted. No extra punishment. It was nothing and she should have just moved on from there.

So that was where we stood at the end of the game with the scoreboard reading 1-1 in the second set. Serena then broke the Japanese and looked like she was going to make her way back into the game. However, Osaka wasn’t done. She broke back in the fifth game to bring the score to 2-3 and was back on serve. That is when Serena decided to take out her frustration on the racquet - hurling it to the floor and thereby breaking another rule. The second code violation came for racquet abuse which cost Serena a point but it looked like Serena wanted the first violation to be taken off because “she had not cheated.” What followed was another monologue, 

“This is unbelievable. Everytime, I play here I have problems. (After being told the first warning had been for coaching) I didn’t get coaching. You need to make an announcement that I didn’t get coaching. I didn’t cheat. How can you say that? You owe me an apology. I have never cheated in my life. I have a daughter and I will stand by what is right for her and I have never cheated and you owe me an apology,” Serena said amidst the rising cheers from the packed Arthur Ashe stadium who seemed more fascinated by the drama that was unfolding in front of them rather than the actual tennis on display.

What she meant by the problems she has faced at Flushing Meadows in the past is most probably in reference to a 2009 semi-final clash against Kim Clijsters, in the same stadium, where she was defaulted from the game for threatening a line official. With the game interestingly poised at 15-30, with the set score favouring the Belgian 6-5, Serena was called out for a double fault thanks to a foot fault. What Serena did after that was nothing short of illegal. “If I could, I would take this f*****g ball and shove it down your f*****g throat,' she had reportedly told the diminutive official, who was called over by the chair umpire. As the match referee walked on to the court, Serena walked over and in a very sarcastic tone added, “Were you scared that I would hit you? I am sorry but there are a lot of people who have said way worse.” She wanted an apology from the Ramos for calling her a cheat which is absurd because the umpire was well within his rights to hand out a code violation for something Serena’s coach later admitted. It is understandable that emotions run high during a final and when things are not going your way, you can say something that might be slightly target but that does not justify what happened two games later.

After Serena was broken for a second consecutive game, she went on yet another tirade, knowing fully well that she had already received two code violations. “It’s wrong. You attacking my character. You owe me an apology. You will never ever ever be on a court of mine as long as you live. You are the liar. And you stole a point from me. You a thief too,” Serena said. As the American walked over to restart the match, the umpire charged her with another code violation, this time for verbal abuse, she was docked a game. 

When the penalty was explained to her, Serena laughed out at the decision before asking for another apology demanded for the match referee to come onto the court. As the referee spoke to the chair umpire, Serena was again heard saying, “This is not fair. This has happened to me too many times. To take a game for saying that is not fair. You know how many men do things that are much worse than that. This is not fair. There are a lot of men out here that have said a lot of things and because they are men it doesn’t happen to them. This is unbelievable. If I say a simple thing like a thief because he stole a point from me... I get the rules but I am saying that it is not right.”

Let’s get something out of the way. It is unusual for players to be warned for coaching especially in a final but I cannot stress this enough, Ramos is well within his rights to do it. Mouratoglou’s claim that Nadal does not get a code violation for coaching certainly holds some ground but Ramos is known as a man who does not shy away from handing out warnings. At this year’s French Open, Nick Kyrgios was warned for shouting at a ball boy and Djokovic suffered the same fate when he bounced his racquet off the grass at Wimbledon. The shocking thing, both incidents, and the Serena one, was the explanation that all three players offered. While Kyrgios said, “How can you sit there and give me a code for that? But when Djokovic pushes an umpire out of the way that’s alright? Tell the whole world that’s alright. Unbelievable bias man. Unbelievable bias,” as his response, Djokovic explained, “To be honest, I thought it was unnecessary to get a warning. I didn’t harm the grass. I knew how I threw the racquet. He (Nishikori) even threw the racquet in the fourth set. (Ramos) said he didn’t see it.” There seems to be an easy out for players to claim that because someone else had done it, they did it as well. If you feel you have heard these kinds of excuses somewhere else, you would have if you ever caught a child guilty of something. 

The idea that John McEnroe is one of the most loved characters in tennis and his utter disdain for officials was considered to be bravado is done and dusted. That is a concept from a bygone era which will obviously not be tolerated today. The constant, and deserved scrutiny that Kyrgios lives under is a testament to that. Most sports, even the most physical ones, where the athletes tower over officials, you see a level of respect for the officials. No matter how bad a decision may be, the players just move on because respect is a huge part of every sport. Maybe tennis needs to introspect and realize that respect has a bigger part to play in sport.

Forget the accolades, what Serena has done for tennis, not women’s tennis but world tennis, has been nothing short of incredible. But no one is above the law. Her only excuse every time has been that others do it as well. That sound less of a defence and more of a hissy fit. And that is exactly what this was. Serena is too great a player for even the idea that she pulled this off as a stunt, to take away from a bad performance, is laughable. But what unfolded today was nothing short of embarrassing for a Champion of that calibre. Ideally, she should come out and apologize for what she has done today. But based on past experiences, I would be shocked if that came to pass.

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