In all attempts to justify Serena Williams’ behavior in the US Open final against Naomi Osaka some basic aspects have been overlooked.
I’ll make the only assumption that Williams didn’t suffer temporary insanity, but was fully aware of her actions and, after two decades in the business, knowledgeable about tennis rules. In that case the events were not so very pretty.
Williams did hear the first warning, the one after coaching. She contested it, but realized that the umpire didn’t retract it, something she also after twenty years knows that umpires never do.
Then when Williams’ serve was broken to 3-2 in the second set she smashed her racket, perhaps done impulsively in the heat of the moment. But that’s when the acting started. After getting the compulsory point penalty she approached the umpire saying “that’s a warning, ehh” pretending that the warning for coaching didn’t exist, which she fully well knew it did. She used her pretended unawareness as an excuse to start her raving attacks on the umpire, a despicable acting in an awkward show.
When she was broken back she realized that she wasn’t going to defeat this superior opponent. Setbacks like that is nothing Williams is very used to, and she is known to handle them not too well in the past. So, she made it into a prolonged tantrum, which required good acting skills.
The crowd (unlike the TV viewers) obviously didn’t know exactly what was said, but they saw her arguing fiercely, and started to brawl in her support. This is when Williams began playing the audience like a violin. Since it was her second warning she was docked a point, and the next game was to start at the ad court. But she demonstratively went to the deuce court, then slowly moved to the other side, head hanging, playing the victim card and inciting the crowd to more booing.
An ugly suspicion is that Williams speculated about Osaka to break down under the pressure from the lynch mob that the crowd had turned into. But if so, she was immediately refuted. The calm Osaka held her serve and then broke Williams easily to 4-3. Time for side change and for the final act in Williams’ hysterical drama. Her acting, with outbursts of senseless attacks on the umpire restarted on an even higher level.
Let’s still suppose that Williams knew what she was doing. That includes knowing that the next warning would mean a game penalty. But she also knew that the championship was lost; Osaka hadn’t crumbled. Thus, she had no reason to restrain herself, it was time for the great Serena finale. She screamed at the umpire, pointed a finger to his face, called him a liar and a thief. She practically begged for a warning and when she consequently got her game penalty the show could finally end in a firework of hysteria (forceful acting but somewhat overplayed).
When Williams failed to have the crowd intimidate Osaka, there was only one logic left for her behavior: to create a situation in which her loss could be blamed on an umpire, stealing the victory from her, thus exempt her from her own responsibility for playing badly. It was despicable, and it was not over.
Waiting for the prize ceremony, Osaka sat in her chair with a face expressing deep sorrow, looking down on her hands in her lap. The camera caught a second-long glimpse of Williams when she looked over at Osaka with a fox-like smile which seemed to say: I stole the joy of victory from you, anyway.
And the booing continued into the prize ceremony. There a female official said that this was not the result we wanted, thus in effect criticizing Williams for not living up to her expectations and, even worse, denigrating Osaka’s victory. The official also happened to overlook the millions of viewers around the world who loved the fact that Williams’ unsportsmanlike attempts to destroy her opponent had failed.
Williams and the crowd were a disgrace this evening, seriously damaging the reputation of US sports. YouTubers commented on this spectacle in masses, overwhelmingly with condemnations for Williams behavior. What moved our hearts was Osaka’s tears when standing on the podium while thousands of heartless haters booed at the top of their lungs; and when she begged forgiveness for ruining the night for the audience. “Thank you for watching the match” she whispered humbly, and our tears ran.
We thought: what has happened to you Americans? Are you taking your belligerent culture to the sports arenas as well? We know that your love for USA sometimes takes chauvinistic proportions (the Olympics in Atlanta was probably the most extreme Olympics in history, in that sense). But we also know that the most brilliant minds working for solidarity and peace are Americans. Those are our great hope for the future of the world.
The first reaction from mainstream media and PC feminists was to defend Williams as “fighting for women’s rights”. How preposterous! They took for granted that one of the most respected tennis umpires in the world had done sexist umpiring! And they didn’t give a damn about Osaka’s women’s rights which Williams bluntly disrespected (Naomi in fact being more of a woman than Serena). When the hurricane against Williams online and elsewhere became apparent, the tone shifted eventually.
Perhaps my initial assumption was wrong. Maybe Williams suffers pathological narcissistic personality disorder. Then her dramatic performance was that of a sick person, which gives her impunity. Then again, she has more than enough resources to get the best treatment in the world.
In any case, a wise career move for Serena Williams would be to retire from the tennis scene – definitely.