Meghann Shaughnessy was a professional tennis player for 19 years before retiring to raise a family six years ago. She was the world’s 11th-ranked female player in 2001. She played more than 1,200 professional matches, including three singles matches against Serena Williams (winning one, losing two) and seven against Venus Williams (2-5).
She was a teammate of the Williams sisters on America’s Federation Cup team captained by Billie Jean King in 2003. She played numerous matches officiated by veteran chair umpire Carlos Ramos. She is also the daughter of my brother.
By now, just about everyone other than Donald Trump (did I miss a tweet?), Alan Dershowitz, and Kendrick Lamar has published an opinion piece about Serena Williams’s meltdown in her US Open final loss to Naomi Osaka Saturday. Serena’s behavior has been excused by many (“she was mistreated because she’s a woman,’’ “male players get away with what Serena did”) while another segment of our global population simply believes Serena was being a poor sport, incapable of accepting defeat, and making the story about herself while deflecting the spotlight from a worthy opponent.
I have remained on the sidelines, reading, listening, and holding my tongue. One of my family members said, “Don’t get into it. This thing breaks down two ways. Old white guys see this one way and everybody else sees it the other way.’’
Swell. But what about my niece? She is not an old white guy, nor is she “everybody else.’’ She played against Serena. She has been warned by Ramos during a match. She has lost points for being coached during matches, for smashing her racket, and for yelling at the umpire. She also has good things to say about her years on the tour with Serena.
“She was always super friendly with me,’’ Meghann said. “Serena has a good sense of humor. I always enjoyed being around her. I think she just got caught up in the moment and didn’t respond well. She’s not used to losing. It doesn’t happen often.’’
I asked Meghann if she experienced a sexist double standard from chair umpires during her years on the tour.
“I didn’t,’’ she said. “I never felt like I was judged harsher because I was a woman when I was playing.
“When she was playing that card — saying, ‘This is unfair and it’s just because I’m a woman that I’m being treated this way’ — the problem is that I think she absolutely did not act appropriately.
“I think she’s an amazing athlete with all sorts of attention on her and she needs to behave better. There’s no question.
“I don’t think this umpire did anything wrong. He’s a great umpire. I had him. He’s been around forever, and in my opinion, he didn’t do anything wrong.
“If you look at the three things that happened which caused the warning, the point penalty, and the game penalty, she didn’t really do anything that was that bad. It’s just the three of them happening in a row.
“In the first one, she got a warning because her coach coached and he even admitted to it. And she was arguing, saying, ‘I didn’t even hear him. You’re calling me a cheater. I’m not a cheater.’ That’s all beside the point. The bottom line is, it’s illegal to coach in tennis still.
“I hope they change that rule soon because as her coach said after the match, every coach coaches every match. That doesn’t change the fact that it’s illegal. He coached, so she got a warning. That’s fair.
“Then she threw her racket and smashed her racket. That’s fair. At that point, in my opinion, she should have been more cautious knowing that the third offense is a game penalty. And she just kept arguing with the ref and ‘you stole a point from me, you’re a thief,’ and I think she probably didn’t think he had the guts to give her a game penalty.
“Later her argument was, ‘Well, men have said far worse.’ They have, but on the first offense. But all that is is a warning. Had the coaching and the racket not happened, she would have just gotten a warning for saying that. So it’s not like she was swearing at him, but because it was the finals of the US Open, there were three offenses and a game penalty and that’s a big deal.
“I had tons of racket abuse. Tons of warnings. I had a couple of point penalties. I never got docked a game. I didn’t take it that far. And that’s a thing — she knows the rules, and after the point penalty, she should have been quiet. That was just pushing her luck.
“She was getting her ass handed to her and she wasn’t dealing with it and that was kind of how she chose to deal with it. So much talk came in about how coaching should be legalized and this isn’t fair treatment for women and all this stuff.
“If you just clear that out of the way and just look at the facts. Coaching is illegal in tennis. Did he coach? Yes. That calls for a warning. OK. Breaking a racket, on a second offense? That’s a point penalty. And verbally berating an umpire is also a penalty. And in this case, that’s a third one and that’s a game. That’s what happened.
“It’s such a big story right now. In the awards ceremony afterwards, she was pretty compassionate towards Osaka. I think at that point she was realizing, ‘Gee, I really screwed up here,’ and she was trying to make it a little better.
“Serena is a true champion. A lot of people look up to her and I think it was a real shame for Osaka. She’s 20 years old and it was her first Slam final and it should have been an incredible moment all about her and instead it was all about Serena and what happened.’’
Dan Shaughnessy can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org