Serena Williams’s coach was cheating. They got caught. Now she’s crying sexism.
A Rundown Of What Happened
At the U.S. Open final on Saturday, Serena Williams’s coach, Patrick Mouratoglou, was caught cheating when he made hand signals to coach her as she played. The chair umpire gave Williams a code violation for her coach’s actions. Williams chewed out the umpire, insisting that she never cheats. The outburst, which was caught on camera, resulted in an additional game penalty against Williams.
"I don't cheat to win. I'd rather lose."
—Serena to the chair umpire after receiving a coaching violation pic.twitter.com/v6Q2GWYYOn
— espnW (@espnW) September 8, 2018
In an interview later that day, Mouratoglou admitted that he had been trying to coach Serena with the hand gestures against the rules, but said every other coach was as well and that it wasn’t fair that Williams was the only one punished
“It was, like 100 percent of the coaches in 100 percent of the matches, so we have to stop this hypocritical thing,” he told ESPN.
Here’s the footage of Mouratoglou’s hand signaling that caused all the controversy.
— Larry FooteSack (@atxhobogrl) September 8, 2018
Williams Denies All Wrongdoing
Williams said she was shocked at her coach’s admission and denied ever coming up with a way to covertly communicate with Mouratoglou while she was on the court.
“We have never discussed signals,” she said, according to the Daily Mail. “I don’t even call for on-court coaching. I’m trying to figure out why he would say that. I don’t understand. I mean, maybe he said ‘You can do it.'”
At a press conference later that day, Williams said she’s seen “other men call other umpires several things” and not get in trouble for it.
“I’m here fighting for women’s rights and for women’s equality, and for all kinds of stuff,” she said.
“He’s never taken a game from a man because they’ve said ‘thief,'” she continued. “Maybe it didn’t work out for me today, but it’ll work out for the next person.”
Her remarks prompted cheers from those in attendance.
Serena leaves the press conference with an ovation “Maybe it didn’t work out for me today, but it’ll work out for the next person.” 👏🏾👏🏾👏🏾👏🏾 pic.twitter.com/zA2tglq6vn
— ARWA #73 (@Arwa_Romanista) September 8, 2018
Cheating Is Cheating, No Matter Who Does It
This past year, the tennis world has been roiled with controversies about alleged sexism. Last month, French tennis star Alize Cornet got in trouble for taking her shirt off and wearing only her sports bra on top on the court for three seconds after she realized that she had put it on backwards. She received a warning for turning her shirt around, while male tennis players take their shirts off on the court all the time without consequence. Having different rules for men and women based on their unique biological qualities isn’t sexism. After all, women have boobs and men do not. But refusing to accommodate for these differences — female players were not given opportunities to change their attire as frequently as male players because of this rule — is unfair. After this incident, the United States Tennis Association did clarify the rules and issued an apology to Cornet.
Earlier this year, Williams was publicly chided by French Tennis Federation President Bernard Giudicelli when he announced a new dress code at the upcoming games following the tennis pro’s decision to wear a catsuit that is specially designed to improve her circulation and avoid blood clots, which she’s struggled with after her pregnancy. Players “must respect the game and the place,” Giudicelli said.
Feeling marginalized by different expectations for men and women in tennis is understandable. But Williams’ coach’s admission that he was in fact cheating on the court casts a different light on the matter.
If Williams’ account of what happened is the truth — that she and her coach did not discuss hand signals ahead of time and he was acting on his own — being punished for his actions makes him a liability on her team instead of an asset. But the fact remains: a member of her team admitted to cheating.
Rules ought to be applied equally. If, like her coach said, others also cheated at the match, they ought to be punished as well. And if a man is caught cheating then chews out the umpire, he also should face consequences for his actions.