Was Serena Williams treated fairly? Ask these tennis “bad boys” who did much worse

Many male tennis players have let their tempers flare up on the court, but few have lost games over it.

Was Serena Williams treated fairly? Ask these tennis “bad boys” who did much worse
Novack Djokovic (left), Serena Williams (center), Andy Murray (right) [Photos: Flickr user James Boyes; Flickr user Edwin Martinez; Flickr user Carine06]

As you probably heard, 20-year-old rising star Naomi Osaka won Saturday’s U.S. Open Final, but her first Grand Slam title was overshadowed by the controversy surrounding how her opponent, Serena Williams, was treated by the umpire, Carlos Ramos. The end result was both Osaka and Williams in tears and a brewing discussion over double standards in how women and men are treated in tennis.


It all started when Ramos decided that Williams’s coach, Patrick Mouratoglou, had advised her from the sidelines. Williams denied it, but Ramos was issued a violation. Williams then received a second violation when she smashed her racket in frustration, which caused her to lose a point. Understandably, that made her even more frustrated and led to an argument with the umpire, where Williams called him a thief for taking a point. That led to a third violation for verbal abuse, leading to the loss of an entire game.

Would a male player have been treated the same way? Not likely. The Women’s Tennis Association and the U.S. Tennis Association both released statements supporting Williams. (The Guardian notes that while Ramos is a stickler for rules, he has “never penalized a player a game in such a high-stakes match” before.) WTA president Steve Simon noted the “difference in the standards of tolerance provided to the emotions expressed by men versus women” and USTA president Katrina Adams called out the “double standard” in treatment in an interview with ESPN. “I know what Serena did and her behavior was not welcome,” she said. “It’s a judgment call to give that last penalty because she called him a thief. They’ve been called a lot more.”

Adams’s comment speaks to a culture in which women who act out are punished while men are written off as “bad boys” who are just doing what boys do. There is plenty to back up her claim: Male tennis pros James Blake and Andy Roddick both admitted on Twitter to having said far worse to umpires and having no real repercussions. In the interest of keeping the discussion alive, we rounded up a few more examples here:

  • Novak Djokovic got into an argument with the same umpire, Ramos, at the French Open, and called him “crap”. While he received multiple warnings, he did not have any points or games docked.
  • Rafael Nadal threatened Ramos at the 2017 French Open. He got two verbal warnings, but did not have a point or game docked.
  • Andre Agassi got a warning for an audible obscenity at the U.S. Open and then called the umpire a “son of a bitch.” Play went on.
  • Marcos Baghdatis smashed four rackets during the 2012 Australian Open, but didn’t lose a point or a game. He did have to pay a $1,250 fine.
  • Nick Kyrgios got in a yelling match with Ramos at the 2018 Australian Open, but no code violations were issued.
  • Andy Murray got a code violation for allegedly calling the same umpire, Ramos, “stupid” at the Rio Olympics. Murray claims he called the umpiring stupid.
  • Novak Djokovic screamed at Ramos during the 2018 Wimbledon tournament, threw his racket, and even pretended to throw the ball at the umpire, but never lost a point or a game.
  • Andy Murray kicked a ball at an umpire’s head during a 2016 match, but did not get a code or point penalty.

To be fair, it’s not just men: Coco Vanderweghe was issued several warnings and a code violation for yelling at the umpire because there were no bananas on the court, and then calling her opponent a “fucking bitch.” She did not lose points or a game.


About the author

Melissa Locker is a writer and world renowned fish telepathist.


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