Howard: Serena, Serena, Serena … bad behavior is bad behavior
There’s no real reason to go over what happened at the U.S. Open singles final except the fact that everyone seems to have a different take on it. Tennis, like most sports can be very emotional - and even more so because it’s just one person playing another, it falls completely on your own shoulders - you against them.
You’ve worked very hard, made it from 128 players down to the final two and at one of the four biggest tennis stages in the world.
Add in the fact you need one more title to tie the all-time record of 24 singles titles that Margaret Court holds and at an age (36) where you most likely will not have many more chances and a win here seems almost crucial.
You say the correct things to the public, “I’m just happy to be in this position no matter what happens”, but inside you want it badly. You know, get the monkey off your back, make sure there is no reasonable question that you are the greatest tennis player ever - at least up to this time and place.
You are coming back after having a baby, there were complications, and you still made it to the Wimbledon finals and fell short...yet here’s one more chance at the U.S. Open which you’ve won numerous times to possibly succeed.
You feel ready and you want it.
The match begins and it seems things are going okay, but then you lose 5 straight games - the young women who idol’s you is showing what good conditioning and nerves of steel can do as she wins the first set 6-2.
You’re on edge and as in the past believe you can turn things around this next set. It’s no longer about another title, the money, or ranking - it’s the battle, the will to win. You’ve done it many times and dog-gone-it and somehow you’ll do it again.
You get up 3-1 and then Osaka breaks back 3-2 and still the NY crowd is behind you. Then a weird thing happens you don’t expect, the umpire. Carlos Ramos, distracts you with a code violation not on you, but your coach Patrick Mouratoglou, who admitted he was trying to give you signals to approach the net which is against the rules even if you weren’t looking.
There was no real penalty just a warning to stop, but you took it personally.
It was the beginning of an emotional meltdown instead of what most wanted to see, a Serena comeback.
Did the umpire have to make that call - no, but it must have been obvious enough to everyone that he felt a warning was justified, just as he would of done if it had been from Osaka’s camp.
That’s the position he’s in and he’s been very good at it across the board with male and female players in all high pressure tournament situations.
So you play the next game and get broken, and then you don’t just break your racquet you smash it to smithereens and obtain a point penalty, which is very warranted - code two point penalty. Osaka starts the next game at 15 - love.
It’s an emotional game and this is the finals of the U.S. Open and things are not going real well, but you are a professional and one that’s been around 20 years, should know what you can and can’t get away with….but things only get worse from here.
Bad behavior is just bad behavior and head chair umpire Ramos is getting more than his fair share of you being in his face and not letting down. You call out the tournament referee and grand slam supervisor, and they let you know this is not a reviewable situation. You are now given a game penalty, which put the set score at 5-3 Osaka. You served and won the game (which to me looked as if Naomi gave you) to put you at 4-5, still down a break.
Osaka serves out the match to take her first Grand Slam title, which was more than a little tainted and a shame for what should have been a very joyous occasion for her.
Was it discrimination - color - a woman/man equality thing - unfair umpiring - gender issues, etc., or was it just an umpire doing his job the best he could, trying to make it fair for both parties (no coaching from either sideline) that got out of hand because a player is emotionally on the edge?
Personally when I’m in a tournament my emotions are similar to Serena’s. I understand those feelings, and how little things can get very magnified. Bottom line it’s up to the player to keep those thoughts and actions under control, it’s part of the training we’re always trying to improve, no matter if it’s a stroke, a strategy, or the mental aspect of what pressure in sports and life brings us.
Yes, there are things in this world that aren’t completely fair and there’s certainly room for discussion about rules and regulations, but where this hullabaloo has gone is somewhere it shouldn’t have.
Chris Howard is a local USPTA Tennis Professional with over 40 years in the racquet and fitness industry. He can be reached at 928-642-6775 or email@example.com.