Saturday, September 15, 2018

Opinion: Serena, crowd embarrassed themselves, USA

   These days, it's almost impossible to make the United States look any worse.
   But Serena Williams and the crowd at Arthur Ashe Stadium managed to pull it off in the recent U.S. Open women's final, embarrassing themselves and their country.
   The soon-to-be-37-year-old Williams acted like a spoiled brat, throwing a tantrum because she was being beaten at her own game by 20-year-old Naomi Osaka. Williams was manipulative and hypocritical in her diatribe with chair umpire Carlos Ramos, who has been widely criticized for -- gasp -- enforcing the rules.
   Equally disturbing were Williams' condescending, entitled, chip-on-her-shoulder attitude, the rudeness of the crowd during the awards ceremony, and the mild reaction, even support, by the fawning media and public.
   Williams committed three code violations in the match, which according to the rules mandate a warning, then a point penalty and then a game penalty. (Had there been a fourth violation, Williams would have been defaulted.)
   Williams was penalized and later fined a total of $17,000 for receiving coaching from Patrick Mouratoglou in the second game of the second set, smashing her racket against the court after losing her serve for 3-2 in the second set and, with Osaka leading 4-3 in the second set, calling Ramos a "liar" and "thief."
   After being warned for receiving coaching, the imperious Williams gave Ramos lecture No. 1.
   "One thing I've never done is cheat, ever," proclaimed Williams, who has residences in Florida, Southern California and Silicon Valley. "If he gives me a thumbs-up, he's telling me to, 'Come on.' I don't cheat to win. I'd rather lose. I'm just letting you know."
   This was Williams playing the victim card. Ramos ruled that Mouratoglou, not Williams, was cheating. Coaching is allowed on the WTA tour but not in Grand Slam tournaments.
   Furthermore, Mouratoglou didn't give Williams a thumbs-up. He moved both of his hands forward, clearly urging Williams to go to the net. To his credit, he later admitted he had been coaching. To his discredit, he justified it by saying that everybody does. Patrick, if you get stopped for speeding, try telling that to the officer and see how far it gets you.
   Finally, as The New York Times reported, Ramos is widely known for being strict and fair. Players and coaches might want to act accordingly.
   After the point penalty for racket abuse, Williams gave Ramos lecture No. 2: "You owe me an apology. I have never cheated in my life. I have a daughter, and I stand for what's right for her, and I have never cheated. You owe me an apology."
   This was Williams playing the celebrity card -- Do you know who I am, officer? -- and, like a politician kissing babies, the family card. Yes, Serena, smashing your racket in anger sets a great example for your 1-year-old daughter to watch someday on YouTube.
   Martina Navratilova characteristically put it best when she wrote in the Times: "There have been many times when I was playing that I wanted to break my racket into a thousand pieces. Then I thought about the kids watching. And I grudgingly held on to that racket."
   After Osaka broke serve again for 4-3, Williams gave Ramos lecture No. 3: "For you to attack my character, then something is wrong. It's wrong. You are attacking my character. ... You will never, ever, ever be on another court of mine as long as you live.
   "You are a liar. When are you going to give me my apology? Say it! Say you're sorry. ... How dare you insinuate that I was cheating."
   As Williams got up from her chair to return to the court, she told Ramos, "And you stole a point from me; you're a thief, too." So it's OK to attack his character.
   Williams still wasn't done. Then she played the gender and Trump cards.
   "Do you know how many other men do things that are ... much worse than that?" Williams told Grand Slam supervisor Donna Kelso. "This is not fair. There's a lot of men out here that have said a lot of things, but if they're men, that doesn't happen to them."
   Like that tremendous leader in the White House, Williams was trying to distract everyone from the real issue, in this case sportsmanship. Verbal abuse doesn't have to include profanity. Some would say impugning a chair umpire's integrity is worse.
   Most men and women actually make it through a match, especially a Grand Slam final, without incurring even a warning. But if they do get one, almost all have the good sense to mind their manners subsequently to avoid being penalized a point and then a game.
   At the beginning of the awards ceremony, the crowd -- apparently believing Williams had been wronged -- booed. Osaka, promptly lowered her visor and cried after clearly outplaying Williams to become the first Japanese player to win a Grand Slam singles title.
   Nice job, fans. Williams may be a poor sport, but she's our poor sport.
   Williams promptly sprang into damage control and lectured the fans, telling them to stop booing. She can't control herself, but she can tell Ramos and the crowd how to behave.
   True, a robbery occurred last Saturday, meriting an apology. Williams, who fancies herself as an honorable role model for her daughter, made a mockery of the final and should have apologized in front of the crowd for stealing Osaka's moment of glory, for which she worked incredibly hard virtually her whole life and can never regain. As the Times' outstanding tennis writer, Christopher Clarey, noted, "You only win your first Grand Slam title once."
   Ironically, Osaka and her older sister Mari took up tennis because of the Williams sisters. Naomi and Mari's Haitian father, Leonard Francois, had moved to Japan, where he met the girls' mother. Francois was inspired after watching Venus and Serena in the 1999 French Open.
   None of Serena Williams' behavior is surprising. She was fined a record $82,500 and placed on two years' probation for threatening a lineswoman in the 2009 U.S. Open semifinals and $2,000 for berating a chair umpire in the 2011 final at Flushing Meadows.
   After the lineswoman called a foot fault on Williams, the player fumed at the official, "I swear to God I'll ----ing take the ball and shove it down your ----ing throat." After the chair umpire ruled that Williams had hindered Samantha Stosur by yelling "Come on," during play, Williams snarled to the official: "You're totally out of control. You're a hater, and you're just ... unattractive inside." Williams lost both matches.
   The underlying problem is that celebrities, especially Williams, are generally treated like royalty. After a while, many start to believe they are.
   Need proof?
   The cover of Sports Illustrated's 2015 Sportsperson of the Year issue depicted Williams draped across a throne (Novak Djokovic deserved the award more, but that's another issue).
   Williams' outfits during this year's U.S. Open were part of Nike's new "Queen Collection," and "Queen" was printed on her gear bag.
   In a music video-style television ad for a headphones company during the tournament, Williams was portrayed as the "Queen of Queens." At the end of the ad, she wears a regal blue gown, a massive crown is placed on her head, and Nicki Minaj bellows, "Now watch the queen conquer!"
   Williams, in fact, has been catered to her entire life. Once, she all but admitted being a spoiled brat.
   "I'm the baby (of the family), the youngest," she said. "I do have a temper tantrum sometimes. But I think it shows my passion. Sometimes getting angry really works for me."
   See how this works for you, Serena: Read the recently published biography of Ashe, if you haven't already, and learn how to conduct yourself with class and dignity.

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