Naomi Osaka stunned Serena Williams to win the US Open, but Williams’ heated dispute with the chair umpire overshadowed the result.
A week has passed since a tennis match divided opinion around the world, and at least three former tennis chair umpires remain split on the role of one their own – Carlos Ramos, the chair umpire at the center of controversy involving Serena Williams at the U.S. Open.
Magdi Somat, an Egyptian umpire who worked multiple U.S. Opens and Wimbledons, told USA TODAY Sports he thinks Ramos intentionally inflamed the situation during the women’s final.
“He wanted to be the tough guy and wanted to stick it to the tough girl and show his muscles to the other umpires,’’ said Somat, 62, a longtime umpire who was fired by Association of Tennis Professionals (ATP) in 2014 for disputed reasons. “What happened at that final, it’s a joke and should have never happened.’’
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Ramos gave three code violations to Williams, who raged at the chair umpire during her 6-2, 6-4 loss to Naomi Osaka and after the match accused Ramos of sexism.
Two retired chair umpires who worked at multiple U.S. Opens and other Grand Slams said Ramos was fair and adhered to the rule book during the match. But both umpires also said Ramos might have been able to head off the controversy if he had communicated better with Williams.
“That’s what it came down to,’’ said Cecil Hollins, the first African-American to achieve the coveted gold-badge status in tennis officiating. “What could he have said that would have alleviated the (tension)?’’
It’s unlikely the public will get answers from Ramos anytime soon, if ever. Tennis officials generally are prohibited from speaking to the news media without permission from the four major organizations that employee them.
“I’m fine, given the circumstances,’’ Ramos told Tribuna Expresso in his native Portugal Tuesday. “It’s a delicate situation, but ‘a la carte’ arbitration does not exist. Do not worry about me!”
Three umpires who spoke to USA TODAY Sports addressed three primary issues, including:
► How the rule that Ramos used to issue a code violation for prohibited coaching is unclear even among experienced officials.
► Why there might have been confusion for Williams after she got a second code violation for breaking her racket, which resulted in a point penalty.
► And what, if anything, could have been done to deescalate the situation before Williams called Ramos a “thief,’’ at which point Ramos issued a third code violation, for “verbal abuse,’’ resulting in full game penalty for Williams.
Somat is an Egyptian umpire and why he no longer officiates in professional tennis is a matter of dispute.
He said he was fired for reporting to the ATP that a woman working with the tennis organization had been sexually harassed by ATP employees, including other chair umpires.
But in a copy of a letter posted online by Somat, the ATP accused him of being insubordinate, aggressive and disrespectful with a supervisor and, off the court, rude, aggressive and arrogant with a linesman.
Somat, who said he essentially has been blackballed by the leading professional tennis organizations, said he has considered Ramos a “good” referee with exceptional powers of concentration. But in assessing the women’s U.S. Open final, Somat offered no praise for Ramos, who holds gold-badge status.
“He was like a robot,’’ Somat said, adding that Ramos had “zero feeling for the match.’’
The problems, according to Somat, trace back to the 2009 U.S. Open, when in the semifinals Williams was called for a foot-fault and then approached the lineswoman who made the call and said, “I’m going to shove this (expletive) ball down your (expletive) throat.”
At a future tournament, Somat said, he gained “total respect” for Williams when he saw her go out of her way to apologize to the lineswoman she had confronted. But, according to Somat, the ill will for Williams festered among other chair umpires and was apparent Saturday when Ramos issued Williams the first code violation, for prohibited coaching.
“(Ramos) couldn’t wait to issue that warning without thinking even for a second to make sure Serena saw her coach and received the information or not,’’ Samot said.
Although Williams’ coach, Patrick Mouratoglou, later acknowledged he was trying to use hand signals to coach Williams, Somat said it would have been impossible for Ramos to confirm the coaching violation based on a careful reading of the rule. The section reads in part, “Communications of any kind, audible or visible, between a player and a coach may be construed as coaching.’’
Williams disputed getting any hand signals from her coach – “I don’t cheat to win, I’d rather lose,’’ she told Ramos – and Mouratoglou said he didn’t think Williams had seen him attempt to give her hand signals.
“Terrible judgment,’’ Somat said referring to Ramos. Somat added that Ramos should have quietly addressed the matter with Williams the next time the players changed sides and “everything will be fine after that and we all can watch a great match a proper celebration.’’
Hollins officiated in multiple Grand Slam events but sued the USTA for discrimination. In 2006, he signed a non-disclosure agreement as part of a settlement.
Although Hollins said the non-disclosure agreement prohibits him from discussing issues of race related to the USTA, which runs the U.S. Open, Hollins spoke freely about Ramos’ work at the controversial women’s singles final.
“There is no umpire that ever wants to be in the newspaper or talked about,’’ said Hollins, 62. “Every umpire goes out there and makes an honest effort to do a great job every single match.
“From an umpire’s perspective, Carlos went right by the book. If you see coaching, you cannot unsee it. If it means that you give a code violation for it, then you give the code violation for it. That’s just the way it is. He saw it, he gave it.’’
Nonetheless, Hollins said, Ramos could have communicated better with Williams and said she appeared confused during the process.
In particular, Hollins said, Williams looked surprised when she was assessed a point penalty and a second code violation after smashing her racket. He traces it back to the first code violation when Williams continued to stress that she does not cheat.
“I know that,’’ Ramos could be heard saying.
“Thank you so much,’’ Williams replied.
Hollins speculates that Williams thought the first code violation had then be rescinded, and thus her anger intensified upon being assessed the second code violation, this time costing her a point.
“Sometimes I felt it was necessary, or chair umpires feel it’s necessary, to give a full explanation and let the chips fall where they may,’’ Hollins said. “It could have all been rolled up into a quiet conversation that he was having with Serena when she said, ‘I didn’t cheat.’
“I don’t believe that Serena fully understood the code and the code clearly states that the first violation is a warning, whether it’s coaching, whether it’s racket abuse, whether it’s ball abuse, whether it’s audible obscenity, it’s a warning. Her second violation of the code is a point penalty regardless of what it is.’’
Those are among the points Ramos could have clarified, according to Hollins.
“If he could go back, I’m sure by now he would’ve figured out the words he would have said to prevent any escalation,’’ Hollins said, “because that was the absolute last thing he was hoping for.’’
Norm Chryst, a retired chair umpire who said he officiated six men’s finals at the U.S. Open, could not be clearer with his assessment of Ramos’ performance in the controversial match.
“I thought Carlos Ramos did an excellent job,’’ said Chryst, 62. “I thought he enforced the rules. I thought he was not intimidated. I thought he communicated well. He kept his cool.’’
But in retrospect, Chyrst said, Ramos could have tried to signal to Williams that she was in danger or losing a point or game.
“I don’t think it would have been the right time after the first code (violation) because she was so emotional,’’ he said. “After the second code (violation), I thought perhaps he could have said something then. ‘You need to calm down because if you get another code (violation) it will be a game penalty.’
“Now whether she would have heard that or not, I don’t know, or whether that would have escalated it even more. But I thought that was the only time that he could have communicated with her, to say, ‘Gee whiz, you need to calm down.’
“I tended to say something after the second (code violation) or when the guys got really riled up. ‘That’s enough,’ or ‘You need to be careful now.’ And those were two lines I used to use when the guys got out of control.’’