Controversial final proves we need Serena Williams more than ever

Courtesy USTA video an emotional Naomi Osaka responds to a question about why she apologized to the fans after defeating Serena Williams at the US Open.

We’ve been in a culture war since the U.S. set its clocks back two years ago and set the stage for the re-opening of old battles and wounds once thought settled. You don’t have to be the most ‘woke’ person in the world to feel concerned for people of colour or women – even if you’re not a person of colour or female yourself. If you haven’t picked a side, you’re not paying attention.

Which is why so many of us have come down four-square behind Serena Williams, who through word and deed continues to challenge accepted order and raise uncomfortable questions. She has always been a woman for her times, but never more than now and Naomi Osaka and a bunch of other people are just going to have to deal with it. In normal times this might be about tennis and petulance and poor sportsmanship, but these are far from normal times.

What transpired at the women’s final of the U.S. Open on Saturday was embarrassing for the event, the sport and for Williams herself. While I find tennis to be much like golf at the professional level – a little too quaint and precious; too beholden to tyrannical preconceptions harkening back to times when they were white, male-dominated pursuits – and for that reason hard to endure, it’s difficult to not feel that chair umpire Carlos Ramos was too heavy-handed in his handling of Williams. It has nothing to do with her being a ‘new mother’ and everything to do with her being who she is; a person who frankly deserves the benefit of the doubt whenever a situation as serious comes about. I don’t know about the precise details of the rules administered by Ramos, nor do I care. What I do know is everybody from long-time ballboys to former champions have criticized Ramos’s actions as being over the top.

What I also know is what has transpired in the sport recently: a female player at the same event being sanctioned because she removed a backwards top on the court – she was wearing a sports bra, for god’s sake – and while she was in violation of a WTA rule not specific to the U.S. Open and was eventually given an apology, the point was taken that nobody much cares when men change their shirts. Also at the U.S. Open, a chair umpire climbed down to give perpetual miscreant Nick Kyrgios a pep talk after he appeared to be tanking a match – no penalty there. And don’t forget the embarrassing reaction of the French Tennis Federation to Williams’ black ‘cat suit’ at the French Open, which she wore to prevent blood clots that had developed during her difficult childbirth. It “went too far,” sniffed somebody called Bernard Giudicelli, president of the FTF.

If nothing else, the U.S. open women’s final served as a timely reminder that in an age of video review and instant replay and VAR and coaches challenges and electronic strike zones, successful, effective officiating involves managing human beings and human emotions in highly pressurized situations. And watching some of the game’s chattering classes get all pretzel-twisted dealing with Williams’ assertions is a reminder we need her singular force of nature now more than ever. I guess if you’re looking for signs of progress, it’s that she didn’t feel as if she had to play the race card to get her point across. Small comfort, that. I mean, really: if you’re the most visible female player in the sport, how can you not have your guard up? So, good for Serena. Good for anybody with the courage to raise a fuss. Serena Williams deserved better, and if some in the sport’s chattering classes get themselves all twisted in knots, it’s because they know it’s true.

A sad, unsatisfactory ending in women's US Open Final
September 10 2018


In which we steal away with the Cleveland Indians … invest in TO real estate with Kawhi … salute Alex Smith for doing Alex Smith things … and wonder who’ll need a free agent third baseman this winter …

• Jose Ramirez’s stolen base on Sunday makes him just the third Indians player with a 30-30 season. More shocking? The Indians lead the majors in steals —
something they’ve never done in their 118-year history #RunninFools

• I don’t know what’s going to be more exasperating this winter: reading the Kawhi Leonard tealeaves (he bought a house in Toronto!) or waiting for a puff of white smoke indicating the Leafs have a captain #HabeusCaptain

• My Baseball Central colleague Kevin Barker worries the Blue Jays don’t have enough velocity to compete in the AL East. He might have a point: their average fastball velo is 30th in the majors; their starters’ 28th and bullpen 27th #SpeedKills

• Can’t wait for the kvetching when the Blue Jays payroll craters in 2019 as a natural result of the team getting younger as opposed to mandated cost-cutting. If you rebuild it, they will whine #AmIRight?

• If it’s the first game, Alex Smith must be good: a 70 per cent completion rate and 30 first downs for his new team, the Redskins. Smith is on a 4-0 run in openers; head coach Jay Gruden has his first Game 1 victory and the Redskins have their first since 2012 #HailToTheChief

• It’s no surprise that the Angels are talking about re-doing Mike Trout’s contract and extending him this winter; free agents Manny Machado and Bryce Harper will establish benchmarks that ought to provide a framework #HighestPaid

• Why Josh Donaldson needs a good September: as’s Richard Justice details, in terms of WAR, third base is the best position in the Majors #ThirdsACharm

• Enough about Vladdy Jr.’s service time: if the players union doesn’t like teams holding down prospects, then try to change it in collective bargaining. The issue: they’d have to sacrifice something for it – and it doesn’t affect most established players, so it’s a non-starter for them #Selfish


Has Blue Jays general manager Ross Atkins already received a contract extension? I’m not sure about that and I don’t know if we’ll ever see a formal announcement from the Toronto front office but I know this: there is an awareness that it will be difficult to conduct a proper managerial search if the industry believes Atkins is in the final year of a deal.

I have to believe that president and chief executive officer Mark Shapiro will be involved in the final decision – senior advisor Ben Cherington would seem likely to also be solicited for advice, although many believe he will end up with another organization – but Atkins will be the point man if the Blue Jays move on from John Gibbons, as expected. The question is: would Shapiro, who has two years remaining on his deal, give Atkins a deal that runs past his own? My guess is the answer is yes.

Jeff Blair hosts The Jeff Blair Show from 9 a.m.-Noon and Baseball Central from Noon-1 p.m. on Sportsnet 590 The Fan. He also co-hosts ‘The Lede,’ a podcast with Stephen Brunt


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