The 2018 U.S. Open Women’s Championship match will go down in history, but not just for the reasons tennis matches are usually deemed historic. At just 20 years old, Naomi Osaka defeated one of the most decorated players, Serena Williams, bringing home the first grand slam title for Japan.
The other side to this historical match was the controversy surrounding it — Williams was charged with three penalties due to cheating, breaking her racquet and verbal abuse to the umpire. Williams says she did not cheat; however, her coach did give her a hand signal, which is against the rules in tennis. It is unknown if Williams saw him giving her a signal. The first penalty was a warning, the second was giving Osaka a point and the third was giving Osaka a game.
It is extremely rare for something like this to happen in a grand slam event, let alone the Championship match. There is controversy surrounding whether or not Williams was treated fairly because she is a woman and she is black. Often times, men receive signals from their coaches in the stands and the umpires rarely say anything. Williams and her coach have never been accused of cheating until this match.
Following the match, a political cartoon was published in an Australian newspaper, The Herald Sun, depicting Williams acting out on the court and resembling a gorilla. The cartoonist depicted Osaka as a blonde, white girl.
After this cartoon went viral, people started rallying behind Williams and Osaka and making cartoons that correctly portray the athletes.
Prior to this match, Williams wore a bodysuit during the French Open, which was later banned by the president of the French Tennis Federation, Bernard Giudicelli.
In an interview with Tennis Magazine, Giudicelli said, “You have to respect the game and the place.”
This sparked some controversy because, as one of the top players in the world, it is unlikely that Williams does not respect the game. What she chose to wear does not reflect the respect she has for tennis or for the tournaments. This tournament took place not long after Williams gave birth to her daughter. She had serious issues with blood clots and the bodysuit was helping to prevent further clotting while playing.
When Williams broke into pro tennis, she was not treated with equal respect as her white counterparts, although she performed as well as or better than many of them. It is time for tennis to be more inclusive, treating everyone equally regardless of gender, race or skin color. Four times a year, this sport unites a variety of nations in the biggest tournaments in tennis. This universal sport cannot be racist or misogynistic.
The debate of whether or not Osaka deserved this championship title also needs to end. Osaka worked tremendously hard to get to the final match and was able to outplay Williams and earn the trophy.