Kevin Paul Dupont

Rules are rules, and Serena Williams went too far this time

Serena Williams demanded an apology from the chair umpire Saturday.
Serena Williams demanded an apology from the chair umpire Saturday.Timothy A. Clary/AFP/Getty Images

Sorry, but guess what, Serena Williams deserved the penalties she received Saturday night at the US Open.

She got carried away, again said and did stupid stuff — she is a repeat offender in that Queens setting — and, yes, while men have done similar and paid varying prices, she went way too far and was duly thrashed by the rule book.

That’s not sexist, which is what she claimed, emphatically, when the night was over.

One of the greats of tennis, former No. 1 Chris Evert, agrees, telling the New York Times, “No sexist issue there. [Chair umpire Carlos Ramos’s] history with men players shows that.”


On Monday, the International Tennis Federation defended Ramos, saying his ‘‘decisions were in accordance with the relevant rules.’’

It was not unfair. It was not history reaching back and up from under the hardcourt and hauling Williams back to some dark, deceitful age.

That was, well, tennis, with a large dollop of common sense and decency. Call the chair ump a liar and thief right there in real time and, well, caveat emptor and pick up your sizable loser’s check and go home. Try to be better next time. Particularly when you are the greatest female player of all time.

Beyond all that, and lost in all the kerfuffle and bluster, was that Williams again used her boorish on-court behavior as a tactic, one she hoped would rattle Naomi Osaka, who now, a champion at age 20, knows she has the nerve to withstand anything fired her way — be it forehand or underhanded — on her sport’s grandest stage.

In fact, the steely Osaka deserves an asterisk next to her title in the Grand Slams record book: *clinched title in the hurricane-force winds of Williams’s bluster.

Her chance at a seventh US Open title vanishing, Williams hoped Osaka would freeze in the emotion of the moment. Nope. Wrong night, wrong racket slinger. In her amazing calm, the 5-foot-11-inch Osaka all but said, “Not tonight.”


Williams was trying to buy time, regain her wind, her legs, her grip, and flip around her anger — fixed squarely at Ramos — and use it to summon the kind of energy that might enable her to rip off a stunning string of trademark aces and laser forehands that have led her to 23 Grand Slam titles.

Emotion is part of her game, a well-crafted, blunt-force tool. Often effective. Smart, clever, and intimidating. Blended with her innate ferocity (the polar opposite of sister Venus), no one, man or woman, can roar like her.

Instead, it became grandstanding, and it backfired.

Her code violation for the verbal abuse of Ramos in fact was strike three for the night. A day later, she was fined $17,000 for the violations.

Earlier in the second set, her coach, Patrick Mouratoglou, was caught on camera trying to coach her up from the stands. Later in the set, she also was hit for a routine code violation for smashing a racket — the frustration of a 6-2 loss in the opening set now showing in her attack on Ramos.

“You owe me an apology,” she said to Ramos in the buildup to her ill-fated punch line. “You will never, ever, be on another court with me as long as you live.”


Then came the closer, the point-surrendering offense:

“You are the liar,” she declared. “You stole a point from me, you’re a thief, too.”

And when the night was over, Williams claimed she did it to fight the good fight in the face of . . . sexism?

Let’s roll the tapes, the highlight reel of Williams’s other lonely days and lonely nights at the US Open (with a hat tip here to the Associated Press and a warehouse of YouTube clips):

■  Sept. 7, 2004. Quarterfinals. A three-set loss to Jennifer Capriati, with Mariana Alves in the ump’s chair. Alves had a brutal, embarrassing day, with Hawkeye (the electronic review system not yet in official use) proving that Williams was correct about repeated line calls made against her. Alves needed to be better. But keep in mind here, Alves is a woman.

■  Sept. 12, 2009. Semifinals. Williams at her ugliest, and scariest, in the moments after Shino Tsurubuchi, a woman calling the baseline, called Williams for a foot fault while she was on serve, trailing, 5-6, at 15-30. The fault put Williams at 15-40, and her tirade directed at Tsurubuchi earned her the code violation that ended her tournament. Earlier, she had been dinged for smashing a racket.

“I didn’t say I would kill you . . . are you serious?!” said Williams as she stood near the ump’s chair alongside Tsurubuchi, to defend herself. The ump, Louise Engzell, appropriately assessed the violation for verbal abuse. Match over. Winner, 6-4 and 7-5, Kim Clijsters.

It was unclear whether Williams ever said she would kill the diminutive Tsurubuchi, but she said she would shove a tennis ball down her throat. Perhaps the same thing. Williams was fined $82,500 for the abuse.


Again, Tsurubuchi and Engzell, both women.

■  Sept. 11, 2011. Finals. A two-set loss to Sam Stosur, 6-2, 6-3. In this one, chair ump Eva Asderaki, awarded a point to Stosur early in the second set, ruling that Williams, by yelling, “Come on!” disrupted Stosur’s concentration and therefore impaired her ability to return the shot.

Williams to Asderaki for all to hear: “You’re a hater, and you’re just unattractive inside.”

Straight from Chapter 1 in the Official Bullying Guide and Handbook: Tell others how they feel and look.

What we have here, folks, is a history. The difference this time is that Williams added to the script. This time, she said, she attributed her situation to sexism.

Regettably, we indeed still live in sexist times, and maybe one day small, insecure, petty, frightened, and stupid men will give up that sinking vessel. The #MeToo movement has made significant headway in doing that.

But the greatest changes in disentangling sexism in the US have come from these last 50 years of women burning bras, kicking up dirt, speaking truth to power, and, above all, being righteously upset over laws and ill-conceived social norms.

Saturday night in Queens was not one of those moments. Williams got her hat handed to her, in set No. 1 by the talented and fearless Osaka, and then by a disastrous and shoddy combination of coaching gone awry, her own ego, and emotion gone off the rails, and ultimately by the rule book.


Shed no tears for Serena Williams. Better, instead, that we all feast eyes on the skill, savvy, and downright grit of Naomi Osaka, the young woman who delivered on point on the grandest stage — a moment all of us, man or woman, should savor.

Kevin Paul Dupont can be reached at kevin.dupont@globe.com.