It is interesting that two of the all-time greats of tennis – Billie-Jean King and John McEnroe – both came to the defence of superstar Serena Williams after her outburst at the US Open tournament over the weekend.
Williams was fined $17 000, in addition to losing a point and later a game, in her final match loss to Naomi Osaka of Japan. Williams called umpire Carlos Ramos a “thief” after he penalised her for taking illegal coaching from her coach.
King Tweeted that “when a woman is emotional, she’s ‘hysterical’ and she’s penalised for it. When a man does the same, he’s ‘outspoken’ and there are no repercussions”. She saluted Williams for “calling out this double standard”.
McEnroe, who was regarded as the “bad boy” of international tennis, said: “I’ve said far worse. She’s right about the guys being held to a different standard, there’s no question.”
Another legendary player, Australian Margaret Court, commented: “It’s sad for the sport when a player tries to become bigger than the rules. Because the young player outplayed her in the first set, I think pressure got her more than anything.”
Almost predictably, people have leapt to their racial or gender loyalties and the debate has become emotional. Undoubtedly, Williams believed she was being disrespected and belittled as a black woman.
That was similar to what our own TV sports commentator, Ashwin Willemse, expressed earlier this year when he walked off a SuperSport set.
The reality is that Williams is a professional who earns her money from tennis – and a professional should stick to the rules. She broke those rules and was taken to task. Race and gender was not the issue here.
However, we do believe international tennis needs to look at itself and get rid of its double standards.