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Serena Williams Fined $17,000 For Code Violations At U.S. Open Final


Over the weekend, there was a major upset in the tennis world when 20-year-old Naomi Osaka of Japan defeated Serena Williams to win the U.S. Open. That wasn't the main source of the drama, though, believe it or not. Serena Williams took multiple penalties during the game and at the end was fined $17,000 by the U.S. Open referee's office for, among other things, her alleged, quote, "verbal abuse" of the referee. NPR sports correspondent Tom Goldman is with us now. Hey, Tom.


MARTIN: So this whole dispute between Serena Williams and the chair umpire Carlos Ramos started when he warned her about and penalized her for hand gestures that she was getting from her coach. The umpire thought that this was sideline coaching, which is illegal. Here she is after that.


SERENA WILLIAMS: If he gives me a thumbs-up, he's telling me to come on. We don't have any code, and I know you don't know that and I understand why you may have thought that was coaching. But I'm telling you it's not. I don't cheat to win. I'd rather lose. I'm just letting you know.

MARTIN: So was this penalty legit, Tom?

GOLDMAN: You know, hard to say here, Rachel. Even though coaching at women's Grand Slam events is against the rules, Williams' coach afterwards said it's done all the time and not penalized. So the coach and Williams maintain that Carlos Ramos issuing a code violation after he saw the coach doing what he was doing was not normal behavior. Now, tennis organizations are saying they need to revisit this rule about on-court coaching. As it stands now it's the rule, and Carlos Ramos was enforcing the rules, as is his duty. He's known as a firm follower of the rules, and the Williams camp took strong issue with that.

MARTIN: So after the match, Serena Williams congratulated her opponent, but she also said the whole thing would have been handled differently if she had been a man in this situation. Let's listen to that.


WILLIAMS: 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.

MARTIN: We should say, I mean, there are different intervals of this dispute. At one point, Serena broke her racquet and she was arguing with the referee. But was there sexism at play here?

GOLDMAN: She says there is. She's putting this in the context of her advocacy for female athlete rights. She has spoken up for pay equity in sports. She's talked about her frustration of being labeled one of the world's greatest female athletes and being judged by her gender and not her achievements. There's a little more background to this, too. At this U.S. Open, a female player was given a code violation when she took off her shirt on court, part of a clothing change due to the intense heat. This violated a policy restricting women from doing that, even though the men do it all the time. After a ton of social media criticism, the U.S. Tennis Association revised the policy so women can change their shirts. So, you know, there was this backdrop.

MARTIN: We have to talk about the closing ceremony, too, right? At the awards ceremony, it looked like no one had won because you've got the champion there, Osaka, who just won. She's in tears. Serena's in tears because the fans were actually booing.

GOLDMAN: Yeah. Yeah, and if people were - you know, there were people upset with Serena, but they gave her credit for trying to calm the crowd down, telling them to stop booing, that Osaka had played a great match and deserved to win. But it was still an incredibly ugly situation. Some say it was the sexism. Some say it was Serena melting down and it was her fault, brought on by the fact that she was getting smacked around on the court by this 20-year-old newcomer.

MARTIN: NPR's Tom Goldman. Thanks so much, Tom.

GOLDMAN: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Tom Goldman is NPR's sports correspondent. His reports can be heard throughout NPR's news programming, including Morning Edition and All Things Considered, and on NPR.org.