top of page

Rather be a Loser than a Cheater: Serena Williams Calls Out Sexism in Women’s Tennis

There is much tea to catch up on this week concerning the finals of the Women’s Singles U.S. Open.

Serena Williams played twenty-year-old Naomi Osaka, who by the end of the night became the first Japanese citizen to win a Grand Slam title. On top of that, she won her first major title against tennis superstar, Serena Williams. But, the events that unfolded leading up to Osaka’s win have added a great deal to the feminist sports conversation. The end of the night left both players in tears.

Serena Williams has come on hard this year in pursuit of her twenty-fourth major title win. Many of her supporters believed that the U.S. Open would be the tournament in which that would occur. In the end Osaka won, but before that happened, Serena Williams was accused of cheating, slammed her racket, was penalized a point, and then an entire game, giving Osaka an advantage. On top of that the United States’ Tennis Association issued Williams a $17,000 fine for three code violations.

Here is why Serena is calling out the sexism in tennis.

The first warning was issued to Serena when acting umpire Carlos Ramos accused Serena Williams’s coach, Patrick Mouratoglou, of giving her hand signals advising her to get closer to the net. This prompted Williams to be outspoken about the allegations (a sexist may call her hysterical) and defend her athlete’s ethics by voicing, “I don't cheat. I'd rather lose. Every time I play here, I have problems.” After deducting a point from Williams for smashing her racket against the court, Ramos proceeded to take a whole game away from her because she said, “You stole a point from me, and you are a thief.” There have many times when men have “acted out” on the court yet were not treated with the hostility with which William faced during this match.

“There are men who out here that do a lot worse, but because I’m a woman you are going to take this aware from me?” Williams remarked. In a press conference afterwards, Williams declared a fight against the sexist bias in the tennis sport which liberates men and restricts women. For example, earlier on in the tournament, female tennis player Alize Cornet was given a code violation for taking her shirt off after realizing she had put it on incorrectly. Cornet had a sport bra underneath, and male tennis players constantly change their shirts in front of the crowd.

The narrative that is being painted by many news outlets is the same old storyline that women are dramatic and overreacting. Some news organizations are even taking the extra initiative to portray Serena as the angry Black woman who does not know how to play with class. In the process of promoting this narrative, Osaka is being whitewashed to fit the bill as the innocent White girl that has been placed in an uncomfortable situation because of Williams. Osaka, by the way, is Japanese, Haitian, and American. The aim of whitewashing Osaka is to further develop the racial stereotypes that follow a powerful woman of color like Williams. A case of this is seen in Mark Knight’s cartoon (seen below) showing an aggressively formidable Williams, and a faceless white passing Osaka.

Source: Herald Sun | Created By: Mark Knight

At the end, Williams is a tennis mega-star who should be able to voice her discomfort like any man could, and Osaka is a fierce rising tennis star whose more tolerable Blackness should not weaponized against Williams.


Alexa Brady is a rising sophomore at NYU studying Journalism, Media, Cultures, & Communication.​

bottom of page