Serena Williams and the US Open
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Opinion

Serena Williams' No-Fair Game

There are many fair points to be made about Serena Williams' loss in the US Open final to new Grand Slam champion Naomi Osaka, but the fairest of all is that tennis still seems to want women—and definitely women with less-fair skin—to behave in ways that aren’t mandated for men.

Williams was right: There’s no way to know for sure if the penalties she received from umpire Carlos Ramos cost her the game or not. But when you’re considered by almost everyone, including Roger Federer (who should know) to be the greatest tennis player of all time, you don’t want to lose or win because of penalties. And on Saturday, code violations that began from a warning became a point deduction, and after led to another, and ultimately to the forfeiture of an entire game of the US Open final match. Which is crazy.

Her coach, Patrick Mouratoglou, was clearly coaching from the sidelines, and admitted as much after the match was over. Some are fans of keeping coaches out of play during tennis, which is still a decision that’s still evolving on the women’s side of the net. It’s not hard to see both sides of the argument; you can see a player’s true ability when the coach is not immediately involved, which is cool, but there aren’t many other sports that restrict athletes from receiving some sort of counsel as they compete, especially in championship face-offs. So, why not? Anyway, that’s another conversation.
And we can go from there to the ratchetness of racket-destroying, which men perfected long ago. Certainly, smashing a racket was almost a spectator sport in itself, long before anyone aside from Richard Williams seriously believed two black girls from Compton would dominate the sport for two decades and counting. Back when the Williams sisters first went pro, you’d be forgiven for making a lame N.W.A joke, because aside from a few other people who hail from the Los Angeles suburb, all the world knew for sure about Compton was that it had lots of N—z Wit Attitudes.

But before you go thinking or saying Williams should have taken the hint and quieted down, consider that Serena Williams took the hint a long time ago, just by being who she is and challenging what this sport, and society, thinks she should be. And hopefully Naomi Osaka took notice, because it’s not unthinkable that history will repeat itself as she emerges as another woman of color breaking the unbreakable rule of showing emotion deemed unbecoming of what tennis demands.
The sport and many of its fans so desperately want Serena to be put in her place, possibly to send some larger message to women, and particularly black women.
See, it’s not enough that you can’t wear a black catsuit, even if it might be saving your life (as Serena's catsuit earlier this year aided her blood circulation). And it’s not enough to put someone through double the amount of drug testing than any of her competitors, just because she is naturally gifted and better. And it’s not enough that women don’t earn as much as their male counterparts, even though we all know that women can, and do, beat men in tennis. No, none of that should make you angry.

What should piss you off, if you were, say, Serena Williams, is that the sport and many of its fans so desperately want you to be put in your place, possibly to send some larger message to women, and particularly black women. Not only do you not have the right to break the same rules as the boys—or make the same money, or briefly remove/adjust your shirt in hellish humidity, like any sweaty, hairy-ass man does when they need to cool down—you can’t even be angry about it.

Serena was completely right to complain. She didn’t need her coach’s help to win or lose the match. She and the rest of us know that men violate the same rules as she did during the US Open final, and almost never are the same acts penalized so consequently. And the fact that it was a man—who some analysts mystifyingly describe as a “fair” judge—who issued the sequence of penalties, arguably shifting the momentum of the game away from Williams and therefore quite possibly being the “thief” he was called, makes it even worse.
We’re all watching and listening to people chiming in, swearing they're feminists, but we’ll see how much of it materializes in true solidarity.
And it all comes at time when Williams’ voice is louder and more powerful than ever, even if her playing is still in adjustment after a complicated childbirth. We’re all watching and listening to people chiming in, swearing they're feminists, but we’ll see how much of it materializes in true solidarity. You know, feminism kinda has a colorism problem that we’re not all ready to publicly discuss, but it’s real.

This isn’t to say she should have won, because the match looked a lot like Osaka outplayed her. And it looks and sounds a lot like Williams knows it, evidenced by her congratulatory upliftment of Osaka since the trophy ceremony, at which she cried due to her own emotional response to all that had occurred—and perhaps what should have occurred but didn’t.

And it all just made me want to salute Richard Williams even more for preparing his daughters for what he knew would come with their success. There are plenty of dads of all colors, and particularly African-American dads with daughters, like me, who feel righteously angry anytime one of ours is downplayed by any man, much less a talentless umpire smirkingly upholding rules he didn't even write. That same feeling goes for anyone else standing in the way of any of our conscious daughters who have to learn the hard way that the world may pretend to root for you, but secretly (or not), they want you to lose, and lose quietly.

As Serena’s former boyfriend Common said on “Black America Again,” the title track to his last solo album, “The darker it gets, the less fairer it has been.” He also name-dropped her so-called “rival” Maria Sharapova on the song, mentioning the fact that the latter makes more money. Yeah, it makes me angry. It should make you angry, too. And if that doesn’t make you angry, maybe a racist cartoon of Serena, looking like a bush woman showing poor sportsmanship against a strangely blonde Osaka, might do the job. And if you happen to smash a tennis racket because you’re tired of being mad but having no place to put the anger and not have it come back at you, you might be understanding the deeper, darker meaning to why #BlackGirlMagic, which Serena created, is so special in the first place.

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