Serena Williams Meltdown – 2018 US Open | Who Is Right?

Most people who follow tennis, and saw the Serena Williams meltdown at the 2018 US Open final fall into one of two camps.

Camp 1: Chair umpire Ramos was wrong. He had it out for Serena. He’s a sexist, hates Serena, or was at least unfair.

Camp 2: Serena acted awful and deserve the penalties she got. The rules are the rules and that’s what they say.

And the two sides seem to really hate or at least strongly disagree with each other.

So who is right?

Today, I’m going to peel back all the layers to this controversial even and try to answer that question. I’ll also share my own perspective about the Serena Williams dispute with chair umpire Carlos Ramos in her match against Naomi Osaka.Analysis of Serena Williams meltdown at 2018 US Open

How The Serena Williams Meltdown Happened

The first thing we have to do to look at this clearly and level-headed is see what actually happened during the US Open Final. Here are the highlights of the dispute below, but I’ll explain each incident as well so you don’t have to watch it.

The Coaching Violation by Patrick Mouratoglou

Serena’s coach Patrick was called for a coaching violation. Serena tells the chair umpire that he was just giving her a thumbs up and also says:

  • We don’t have any code.
  • I don’t cheat to win, I’d rather lose.

At this point, I empathize with Serena a bit. I’d be frustrated too if I was given a violation for something that didn’t happen.

That said, it wasn’t a point or anything so she does get a little too emotional and defensive for me. But she’s a far more emotional person than I am so I can’t really fault her for that.

We don’t find out until after the match that it was, in fact, the right call by the rule book. We’ll get to that later.

Serena Smashes Her Racquet & Receives a Point Penalty

The 2nd code violation is for the smashing of the racquet.

This is a pretty clear violation.

I can’t blame her for smashing the racquet. She lost a big game and got mad. It happens on the pro tour all the time. I’ve even done it before over a stupid 4.5 USTA match that I wasn’t getting paid for 🙁

SIDE NOTE: I wanted to stop and take a moment to recognize how well Serena smashed this racquet. If you’re like me then you know what it’s like to smash a racquet and it’s not nearly as easy as she made it look. To break it in 3 places with one throw is really impressive.

Serena Williams broken tennis racquet at 2018 US Open Final

I also can’t blame Ramos for giving the code violation. It was a pretty obvious call.

Serena is Confused After the Changeover & Unloads on Ramos

At this point, Serena is confused after the changeover. She thought that Ramos had taken back the code violation for coaching, but he had not. So, the racquet smash was a point penalty.

This is where the real Serena meltdown begins. She takes her emotion to another level.

Among other things she says:

  • I didn’t get coaching. (3x)
  • I don’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 stand (for) what’s right for her.
  • I have never cheated. (again)

Serena Gets a Third Code Violation & Game Penalty for Verbal Abuse

She goes on to lose the next 2 games, which I imagine heightens the anger.

Then, on the changeover, she continues speaking loudly at chair umpire Ramos.

  • For you to attack my character… is wrong.
  • You’re attacking my character.
  • You owe me an apology. (2x)
  • You will never ever ever be on another court of mine as long as you live.
  • You are a liar.
  • When are you going to give me my apology?
  • Say it, say you’re sorry.
  • Don’t talk to me. (this contradicts the last statement which may confuse Ramos)
  • How dare you insinuate that I was cheating.
  • You stole a point from me.
  • You’re a thief too.

Chair umpire Ramos gives Serena the 3rd code violation after the last comment above, “you stole a point from me. You’re a thief too.”

We do find out that by rule, this was verbal abuse and Ramos did have the right to give her the 3rd code violation.

This is where we lose the ability to compare this incident to others that have happened in tennis.

If you take any individual statement above, then it’s not that bad. We’ve seen worse.

But no one has ever put that much effort into attacking a chair umpire or line judge for that long. It happens on 3 different occasions for several minutes, and again twice with the other officials who she calls onto the court.Serena Williams argues with 2018 US Open officials

Serena arguing with the 2018 US Open officiating gods.

Analyzing the Serena Dispute From Both Sides

Okay so now that we’re clear on what happened and what was said, let’s take a look at the two camps we mentioned at the beginning. After looking at both sides, I’ve drawn a few conclusions from the incident.

Why Serena’s Reaction to Ramos is Confusing

Let’s go back to the point penalty. After the changeover, Serena got confused and then started the big meltdown and attack of Ramos.

Again, if she didn’t get coaching then she has a right to be mad. But she really takes it to another level.

This is the part confuses me a little for a few reasons.

#1 – It’s a 1 point penalty and they are still on serve in the 2nd set.

So it’s really not that big of a deal. But even if it was, Serena doesn’t seem to care as much about the point penalty as she does the apology.

#2 – Serena is really angry about the “attack on her character.”

Think about this… you’re one of the most famous athletes in the world for the past 20 years. So, it’s reasonable to think that people have a good idea of your character at this point.

You’re in the finals of the US Open, and the chair umpire makes a “mistake”

Now, do you really think that this chair umpire accusing you of cheating is going to ruin your character or reputation?? If yes, then you’ve got bigger problems you need to deal with.

This is the part I really don’t understand.

Why on earth does this chair umpire Ramos guy have so much power over Serena’s emotions? Why does she care what he thinks of her character?

99% of the people watching didn’t even know who that guy was, including me.

Honestly, I’m not sure calling a coaching violation even qualifies as an “attack on her character.”

If I’m playing a match and the chair umpire overrules my call, I don’t take it as an attack on my character. It was just a mistake, on either my part or the chair umpires. I know that I don’t intentionally cheat, and to be honest I don’t really care if some chair umpire thinks I do.

#3 – She brings her daughter into it.

This is really bad form by Serena. Her daughter has nothing to do with this.

She’s like one year old and doesn’t understand the concept of tennis or on court coaching. So the idea that she’s setting an example for her 1-year-old daughter on the tennis court is silly.

Also, having a daughter doesn’t make you a better person. So, it’s not a good argument for not being a cheater. If I’m a referee and I catch you cheating, but then find out you have a daughter, I’m not changing my call.

Should Ramos Have Held Back?

Chair umpire Carlos Ramos from 2018 US Open womens final

Carlos Ramos, for a short time, was the most hated man in New York as he calls the game penalty on Serena.

There are 2 occasions when Ramos could have reasonably held back.

However, we find out after the match that Ramos is notoriously a rule nerd and both calls were fairly consistent with the way he calls matches.

#1 – The Coaching Violation

I think this happens a lot and is rarely called. It would have been okay for him to not call this one. It’s a rule that needs to be changed which we’ll discuss later.

#2 – After the changeover at 3-4, Serena gets the game penalty.

There is a valid argument, that Chris Fowler makes, that he should have thicker skin, and shouldn’t do that in a Grand Slam final.

You see this in basketball. Referees tend to let more fouls go during the NBA Playoffs.

There’s no way to objectively prove that he should have or shouldn’t have given the penalty. It’s really up to you and your opinion.

I think there are good arguments both ways.

If you’re a rule nerd, then Serena got what she deserved. If you’re a Serena fan, then the umpire is a hater.

Are Ramos & Other Umpires Sexist?

After the game penalty, Serena gets the US Open gods to come onto the court to argue with them.

She says a lot of the same stuff about not being a cheater and asking for an apology.

This is where she brings in the sexist arguments.

She says “men say a lot worse things.” This is true, but I’ve never seen anyone (men or women) go on for this long about a dispute.

Again, I don’t think we can compare this to anything that’s been done before.

People in the Serena hater camp will point to data like this to say that men actually have it worse. This is a stupid argument as Jeff Sackmann explains here.

We’d need to quantify how often men and women get angry somehow or keep data on broken racquets to prove any sexism that goes on among umpires.

In Navratilova’s great article for the NY Times, she seems to think there is a double standard for women, but she doesn’t support that with any evidence in this article. To be fair, that wasn’t the point of the article.

There’s simply no way to know if umpires or Ramos specifically was being sexist.

So, are umpires sexist? Maybe.

How The Patrick Mouratoglou Interview Changes Everything

After the match, Pam interviews Serena’s Coach Patrick Mouratoglou and he says “Yes I was coaching. Like 100% of the coaches on 100% of the matches.”

Patrick Mouratoglou being interviewed by Pam Shriver at 2018 US Open womens final

Patrick Mouratoglou discussing his coaching violation with Pam Shriver after the Serena loss at the 2018 US Open women’s final.

This is where everything changes.

Let’s review a few of Serena’s comments above during her outburst:

  • We don’t have any code.
  • I don’t cheat to win, I’d rather lose.
  • I didn’t get coaching (3x)
  • I don’t cheat
  • I have never cheated in my life
  • I have never cheated
  • How dare you insinuate that I was cheating.

Keep in mind Patrick has been coaching Serena for 6 years.

So, unless you think Serena has gone 6 years without any knowledge of Patrick doing on-court coaching, which he says goes on in 100% of matches, the whole dramatic Serena meltdown was a lie.

All of Serena’s statements above that she yelled at Ramos, are lies.

During this whole dispute, I thought Serena had a valid reason to be pissed.

But, I just don’t believe that Serena didn’t know that Patrick sometimes coaches. I’m not that naive.

The Serena camp would say, but Serena didn’t see him coaching. Fine, but Serena still knows that he sometimes does on court coaching.

So she had to know there was a chance that Ramos may have seen Patrick doing some kind of signaling. And if that’s true, then the statements above simply can’t be true, and Serena knew it when she said them.

So Who is Right? Serena Or Ramos?

It’s difficult to separate them, but there are 2 issues with this whole incident at the 2018 US Open.

  1. Should Chair Umpire Ramos have called the violations he did?
  2. Is Serena Williams right to be so angry?

Remember we have 2 camps.

Camp 1: Chair umpire Ramos was wrong. He had it out for Serena. He’s a sexist, hates Serena, or was at least unfair.

Camp 2: Serena acted awful and deserve the penalties she got. The rules are the rules and that’s what they say.

I think that both camps are right, in part.

At the end of the match, Coach Patrick highlights the inconsistencies in how matches are called.

I agree with Coach Patrick. The rule on coaching needs to be changed. They should allow it, have the coaches sit out of sight, or something else.

Either way, the current rule is weird. There’s no consistency with how the rule is called.

Ramos probably should have let that slide, because it is rarely called. But apparently, he’s known to be a rule nerd so it’s not super surprising that he called it.

The last verbal abuse violation also probably shouldn’t have been called.

He should have talked to her firmly on the changeover and said “I don’t want to give you a game penalty so this needs to stop” or something like that. But since Ramos is a rule nerd, he followed the rule by the book.

Should Chair Umpire Ramos have called the violations he did? Probably not.

The Truth About Serena’s Character

Second, Serena Williams lied.

This is an important takeaway that no one has caught.

The whole time Serena was going crazy on Ramos, she knew that sometimes Coach Patrick does on court coaching. There’s no way to say some of those things without lying to Ramos and the US Open god’s faces.

So… is Serena Williams right to be so angry? No, she was lying.

Why was she lying?

Maybe she can’t handle losing straight up and needed something else to blame it on.

Maybe she’s not sure about her own character, so when someone like Ramos questions it, she gets super defensive. People who aren’t sure of themselves tend to get defensive like that.

Really there’s not one clear answer, but Serena is a complicated athlete with complicated issues, and I think it’s unfair to paint such a false dichotomy narrative as so many have.

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