In the wake of the controversial end to the Women's U.S. Open Final, the tennis star has turned her sights on inequalities in her sport.
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When asked what she would change about the Women’s Final at a press conference, Williams, 36, discussed the chair umpire Carlos Ramos and the code violations she received at Saturday’s match.
“You definitely can’t go back in time,” she said, “but I can’t sit here and say I wouldn’t say he’s a thief because I thought he took a game from me. But I’ve seen other men call other umpires several things.” (Related: Serena Williams Missed Her Daughter's First Steps Because She Was Training Because She Was Training for Wimbledon)
Williams continued, “And I’m here fighting for women’s rights and for women’s equality and for all kinds of stuff. And for me to say ‘thief’ and for him to take a game, it made me feel like it was a sexist remark. He never took a game from a man because they said ‘thief.’ For me it blows my mind. But I’m going to continue to fight for women and to fight for us to have equal [rights].”
During the game, Williams was given a violation by umpire Ramos for illegal coaching from her player box during the first set. She told Ramos, “I don’t cheat to win. I’d rather lose.”
After receiving the game penalty for court violation, Williams said to Ramos, “You will never, ever, ever be on another court of mine as long as you live. You are the liar. When are you going to give me my apology? You owe me an apology. Say it. Say you’re sorry. …And you stole a point from me. You’re a thief, too!” (Related: Alexis Ohanian Shares Sweet Tribute Video to Wife Serena Williams: ‘The Most Inspiring Person I Know')
Mentioning Alize Cornet, who received a code violation at the U.S. Open for removing her shirt, Williams said at the press conference, “Like Cornet should be able to take her shirt off without getting a fine. This is outrageous. I just feel like the fact that I have to go through this is just an example for the next person that has emotions and that want to express themselves and they want to be a strong woman, and they’re going to be allowed to do that because of today.”
Choking up, the 23-time Grand Slam champion said, “Maybe it didn’t work out for me, but it’s going to work out for the next person.” The room broke out into applause as she finished her response.
During the tournament, Williams said to referee Brian Earley, “Because I’m a woman, you’re going to take this away from me?”
Williams was fined $17,000 for the three violations. The tournament referee’s office deducted $10,000 for verbally abusing the umpire, $4,000 for receiving a warning about coaching, and $3,000 for breaking a racket from Williams’ $1.85 million prize money, the Associated Press reported on Sunday. (Related: Serena Williams' Maternity Leave Is Making a Major Change In Women's Tennis Tournaments)
Tennis icon Billie Jean King jumped to Williams’ defense on Twitter. She wrote, “Several things went very wrong during the @usopen Women’s Finals today. Coaching on every point should be allowed in tennis. It isn’t, and as a result, a player was penalized for the actions of her coach. This should not happen.”
King added in a second tweet, “When a woman is emotional, she’s ‘hysterical’ and she’s penalized for it. When a man does the same, he’s ‘outspoken’ & and there are no repercussions. Thank you, @serenawilliams, for calling out this double standard. More voices are needed to do the same.”
(1/2) Several things went very wrong during the @usopen Women’s Finals today. Coaching on every point should be allowed in tennis. It isn’t, and as a result, a player was penalized for the actions of her coach. This should not happen.
— Billie Jean King (@BillieJeanKing) September 9, 2018
(2/2) When a woman is emotional, she’s “hysterical” and she’s penalized for it. When a man does the same, he’s “outspoken” & and there are no repercussions. Thank you, @serenawilliams, for calling out this double standard. More voices are needed to do the same.
— Billie Jean King (@BillieJeanKing) September 9, 2018
Tennis stars Victoria Azarenka and Andy Roddick also commented.
If it was men’s match, this wouldn’t happen like this.
It just wouldn’t
— victoria azarenka (@vika7) September 8, 2018
Worst refereeing I’ve ever seen ...... the worst !!!
— andyroddick (@andyroddick) September 8, 2018
At the emotional trophy ceremony, as the crowd roared with boos, Osaka, 20, tilted her cap down and began to cry. Williams put her arm around her competitor to comfort her and told the crowd to give Osaka her moment.
Williams said, “I know you guys were here rooting, and I was rooting too. But let’s make this the best moment we can, and we’ll get through it. Let’s give everyone the credit where credit’s due. Let’s not boo anymore. We’re gonna get through this, and let’s be positive. So congratulations, Naomi! No more booing.” (Related: How Sloane Stephens Trains, Eats, and Mentally Prepares to Crush the Competition)
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A number of celebrities praised Williams for her good sportsmanship.
— Ellen DeGeneres (@TheEllenShow) September 9, 2018
Serena is right. I was there. And worse, he was baiting her. https://t.co/CinW6AJJNo
— shonda rhimes (@shondarhimes) September 8, 2018
So incredible and such an honor to watch @serenawilliams play tonight at the @usopen. Even more than her athleticism, her character shined so bright. A role model for everyone ❤️ pic.twitter.com/ukwrbiZljF
— Adam Rippon (@Adaripp) September 8, 2018
— Chelsea Clinton (@ChelseaClinton) September 8, 2018
Osaka said in her own press conference after the game that she was a longtime Williams fan. “When I was growing up, I did a whole report on her in third grade. I colored it and everything. And I said, ‘I want to be like her,'” Osaka told reporters. (Related: Serena Williams Shares Throwbacks from the Birth of Daughter Alexis Olympia as She Turns 1)
In a statement provided to PEOPLE, Katrina Adams, USTA Chairman of the Board and President, said, “What Serena did on the podium today showed a great deal of class and sportsmanship. This was Naomi’s moment, and Serena wanted her to be able to enjoy it. That was a class move from a true champion.”
The statement continued, “What Serena has accomplished this year in playing her way back on to the tour is truly amazing. She continues to inspire because she continues to strive to be the best. She owns virtually every page of the record book, but she’s never been one to rest on her laurels. She’s always working to improve; always eager to embrace new challenges; and to set new standards. She is an inspiration to me, personally, and a credit to our sport, win or lose.” (Related: 5 Reasons Tennis Player Monica Puig Is Basically Your BFF (But with a Gold Medal))
The statement concluded, “I know that she was frustrated about the way the match played out, but the way she stepped up after the final and gave full credit to Naomi for a match well-played speaks volumes about who she is.”
In another statement provided to PEOPLE, the U.S. Open described what went down on the court. The statement started, “On the fifth point in the second game of the second set between Naomi Osaka and Serena Williams, the chair umpire witnessed coaching taking place from Williams’ coach. Even though her coach has admitted to coaching, Williams has made it clear that she did not receive any coaching. Nevertheless, in accordance with the rules, Williams was assesed a Code Violation, resulting in a warning.” (Related: Every Single Celebrity Hitting the U.S. Open in NYC.)
“At the completion of the fifth game of the second set, Williams was assessed a second code violation for racquet abuse, which required a point penalty,” the U.S. Open’s statement added. “At the changeover, at 4-3, Williams was assessed a third code violation for verbal abuse in the judgment of the umpire, which then required a game penalty. The chair umpire’s decision was final and not reviewable by the Tournament Referee or the Grand Slam Supervisor who were called to the court at that time.”
This story originally appeared on People.com by Emily Zauzmer.