Martin Smith Column: Serena Williams’ fiery fight for equality is the right battle… but she picked the wrong time

Naomi Osaka, of Japan, wipes a tear as she talks with Serena Williams after Osaka defeated Williams in the women's final of the U.S. Open

Naomi who? That’s what we’ll be asking in years to come when someone mentions the name of Naomi Osaka.

You know, the tennis player who didn’t have a meltdown after an umpire caught her coach cheating?

The one who didn’t scream at Carlos Ramos that he would: ‘Never, EVER be on another court of mine as long as you live’.

The one who actually won the US Women’s Open tennis title in 2018.

Serena’s charge of sexism in the way tennis officials treat women is backed by the Women’s Tennis Association and there is plenty to do in the fight for fair and equal treatment for women.

But responding the way Serena Williams did on Sunday helps no-one.

Not Serena Williams, not women’s tennis and certainly not Naomi Osaka.

Williams’ mad moments at Flushing Meadow smacked more of superstar tantrums than a woman fighting for gender equality.

To her credit Williams’ later asked the crowd to stop booing during the trophy presentation and she congratulated Osaka on her victory.

That’s as it should be.

And it could be argued Serena Williams is fighting a bigger battle for all women, one far more important than a 20-year old being able to enjoy winning her own and her nation’s first grand slam title.

But wanting to be allowed to behave as badly as badly-behaved male players is not really flying the flag for anything other than bad behaviour.

Serena Williams is an inspirational role model for women, working mothers and black athletes. She has had a fantastic career and has challenged and changed attitudes and values in her sport and the wider world. 

Her outburst - which may eventually have more effect on this issue than any off-court appeal for fairness - should certainly have been dealt with like any male player’s might have been.

But umpire Carlos Ramos’ record shows he’s a nit-picker with all players and according to the rulebook he got Williams’ three violations decisions exactly right.

He could have been more patient with Serena’s aggression and there is a well-supported case that top-level tennis umpires accept more dissent from men than they do from women.

That is wrong and urgently needs to be addressed.

But, whether it comes from a woman or a man, calling an umpire a ‘liar’ and a ‘thief’ is never going to be acceptable.

And nor can it ever be, no matter who is having the meltdown.

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