Controversial U.S. Open prompts promises of improvement

Issues of sexism, officiating double standards and adverse playing conditions have dominated the 50th anniversary of the U.S. Open, raising uncomfortable questions and prompting authorities to promise a review of existing policies.

Serena Williams yelling at chair umpire Carlos Ramos
Serena Williams yelling at chair umpire Carlos Ramos

Chair umpires took centre stage at Flushing Meadows this year, more than at any other tournament in recent memory, and culminated with Serena Williams being reduced to tears at her treatment in the women’s final.

Her conduct, which earned her a game penalty during Saturday’s defeat by Naomi Osaka, and her comments that a male player would not have been penalised in the same way, have split the tennis world.

While Williams was fined a total of $17,000 by the tournament referees’ office for the three code violations she received from Portuguese umpire Carlos Ramos, the United States Tennis Association (USTA) also said it would review its policies in the wake of various officiating controversies.

Swedish umpire Mohamed Lahyani was reprimanded by the USTA for going “beyond protocol” when he climbed down from his chair to give Nick Kyrgios a pep talk during his second-round match against Pierre-Hugues Herbert.

Umpire Christian Rask was also criticised after he gave Frenchwoman Alize Cornet a code violation for removing her shirt on court after she realised she had put it on back-to-front in the locker room during a mid-match heat break.

All that pales in comparison to the furore surrounding Williams, who was given a game penalty for accusing chair umpire Carlos Ramos of being a “liar” and “a thief for stealing a point” from her in the women’s final.


Several prominent figures in the sport have backed Williams for exposing the double standards within tennis while others have criticised her for lacking sportsmanship.

The Women’s Tennis Association (WTA) has also weighed in, offering its backing to Williams, with chief executive Steve Simon saying different standards of tolerance exist for men and women.

“Yesterday brought to the forefront the question of whether different standards are applied to men and women in the officiating of matches,” Simon said on Sunday.

“The WTA believes that there should be no difference in the standards of tolerance provided to the emotions expressed by men v women and is committed to working with the sport to ensure that all players are treated the same.

“We do not believe that this was done.”


The beginning of the tournament saw organisers struggle to contend with a heat-wave in New York that resulted in the implementation of a heat policy — the first time ever it was applied in men’s matches.

As players sweated it out in the humidity and searing temperatures, some of the game’s top names spoke out against the conditions, with questions raised about amount of air circulation present in Arthur Ashe Stadium.

The tournament’s main showcourt was given a new roof two years ago, but the lack of ventilation within the arena when the roof is open drew plenty of criticism, not least from the likes of Rafael Nadal, Roger Federer and men’s champion Novak Djokovic.

“The way that the system is built... we really can’t operate our (air management) system unless the roof is closed,” a USTA spokesman said, adding that organisers would discuss ways to improve playing conditions next year.