The United States Open final between the tennis legend Serena Williams and Naomi Osaka, a rising star in her own right, could have been a celebration of talent and determination, regardless of the outcome.
Instead, the match on Saturday will be remembered for what Williams charged were “sexist” code violations against her by the chair umpire, who penalized her for verbal abuse after she called him a “thief.”
Osaka went on to win the game in two sets, 6-2, 6-4, but she was also upset and apologized to the crowd and Williams’s fans.
Reactions on social media largely focused on the umpire, Carlos Ramos, for penalizing Williams for behavior that critics said would ordinarily result in just a warning for other players.
Chris Evert, a former top tennis player, tweeted that Ramos should have warned Williams about the verbal abuse violation before penalizing her. During the game, Andy Roddick, who retired from the sport in 2012, wrote on Twitter, “Worst refereeing I’ve ever seen …… the worst !!!”
James Blake, a retired tennis star, tweeted that he had said worse things on the court and did not get penalized.
“And I’ve also been given a ‘soft warning’ by the ump where they tell you knock it off or I will have to give you a violation,” he wrote. “He should have at least given her that courtesy. Sad to mar a well played final that way.”
Billie Jean King, a tennis legend and a pioneer for women in the sport, congratulated Osaka in a tweet before thanking Williams in a separate one for calling out a double standard between men and women in the sport.
On Twitter, some people pointed out that the treatment of Williams as a woman, particularly a woman of color, was especially egregious.
The actress Reese Witherspoon and the TV host Ellen DeGeneres thanked Williams on Twitter for standing up for women’s rights. The actress Gabrielle Union called her “the best athlete the world has ever seen” and said Osaka demonstrated “#BlackGirlMagic & fierce determination.”
Sally Jenkins, in her column in The Washington Post on Sunday, wrote, “Ramos took what began as a minor infraction and turned it into one of the nastiest and most emotional controversies in the history of tennis, all because he couldn’t take a woman speaking sharply to him.”
Some on Twitter hailed Williams for her strength and courage.
At a news conference after the match, Williams was asked if there was anything she would have changed about the game. She stood by her statements to call Ramos a “thief,” adding that she would continue to fight for women’s equality.
She said her experience was an example for future players who want to express themselves and be strong women.
“They’re going to be allowed to do that because of today,” she said. “Maybe it didn’t work out for me, but it’s going to work out for the next person.”