Tennis Organizations Pledge Rule Review After U.S. Open Controversy

The United States Tennis Association and other major tennis organizations said the championship match between Serena Williams and Naomi Osaka highlighted officiating inconsistencies that dog the sport.

The U.S. Open closed on Saturday with a public outcry over strict officiating after tennis icon Serena Williams complained about double standards during her championship match against Naomi Osaka, which Osaka won.

It wasn’t the only such incident—several actions by umpires were  criticized during the tournament—but the Williams case was the one that captured the zeitgeist. The situation quickly broke down when chair umpire Carlos Ramos penalized Williams for receiving coaching during the match after her coach made hand gestures from the crowd, leading to heated objections from Williams and two more penalties from Ramos.

In the days since, several tennis organizations have said the officiating controversies at the U.S. Open are prompting questions about what changes may be needed.

“Some of these incidents, you know, have prompted us to reflect on the clarity of our own communication to the chair umps,” United States Tennis Association (USTA) spokesman Chris Widmaier told Reuters. “These incidents will prompt us to analyze ways of perhaps instituting some change. We certainly do not want inconsistencies. I think it could potentially help everybody if there was some more consistency to this.”

The Women’s Tennis Association on Sunday echoed Williams’ complaints on the court, saying gender may have played a role in the penalties she received.

“The WTA believes that there should be no difference in the standards of tolerance provided to the emotions expressed by men versus women and is committed to working with the sport to ensure that all players are treated the same,” the association said in a statement. “We do not believe that this was done last night.”

USTA will take a look at the rules on coaching during matches and will review a heat rule that became an issue during a match in which French player Alize Cornet received a code violation after she realized her shirt was on backwards and removed it on court.

“The Alize Cornet thing kind of was triggered by the heat but it also brought to the forefront nothing that had ever happened before,” Widmaier said. “It prompted us to say, ‘Hey, maybe we’re not being clear here.’”

Saturday’s event wouldn’t be the first time this year that Williams was a catalyst for a self-examination in the official tennis world. Her return from a yearlong maternity leave, which caused her world ranking to plummet, led to a change in the U.S. Open’s seeding protocol. And a ban on her one-piece catsuit, which she wore for medical reasons during the French Open, led to pushback from the public and a supportive tweet from Nike.

Serena Williams, shown at the 2018 U.S. Open Women's Final. (YouTube screenshot)

Ernie Smith

By Ernie Smith

Ernie Smith is a former senior editor for Associations Now. MORE

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