Novak Djokovic, the U.S. Open men's champion, trod delicately when asked about the Serena Williams controversy that erupted Saturday evening, overshadowing his 14th Grand Slam title.
Williams was fined $17,000 by the U.S. Tennis Association for cascading code violations after being issued a warning for receiving coaching, a point penalty for breaking her racket and a game penalty when the chair umpire deemed her comments to be abusive. It helped contribute to the loss to Naomi Osaka and eclipsed Osaka's performance and post-match ceremony. The ugliness dominated talk Sunday and Djokovic gave a thoughtful answer when asked about the situation.
"Look, I love Serena, first of all," Djokovic told reporters Sunday after beating Juan Martin del Potro, 6-3, 7-6 (7-4), 6-3. "I really felt for her [Saturday]. Tough thing for a chair umpire to deal with, as well. We have to empathize with him. Everyone was in a very awkward situation yesterday. A lot of emotions. Serena was crying. Naomi was crying. It was really, really tough."
But it was made exponentially more difficult by umpire Carlos Ramos. Williams may well have lost the match to Osaka, but taking away a game at a critical point in Osaka's 6-2, 6-4 victory was a needless intrusion on the match. Plenty of people pointed out that male stars such as Roger Federer and Jimmy Connors, to name two, have not been penalized for worse comments than Serena demanding an apology and calling Ramos a thief.
Djokovic drew the line at Ramos' involvement, though. The last thing any athlete wants or any sport needs is for an official to intrude on the outcome, particularly when a championship is on the line.
"I have my personal opinion that maybe the chair umpire should not have pushed Serena to the limit, especially in a Grand Slam final," he said. "Just maybe changed - not maybe, but he did change the course of the match. It was, in my opinion, maybe unnecessary. We all go through our emotions, especially when you're fighting for a Grand Slam trophy.
"I just feel like, as Serena said yesterday in the closing ceremonies, Osaka deserves to have her moment. As for Serena, she knows I love her. She really inspires everyone. To see her still being so dedicated and so committed to this sport, it's inspiring really to me and to many tennis players, both men and women, around the world."
Steve Simon, the head of the Women's Tennis Association, said in a statement Sunday night that the incident "brought to the forefront the question of whether different standards are applied to men and women in the officiating of matches."
Coaching isn't allowed during men's matches, but is permitted on the women's tour - except in the Grand Slam events. Simon believes that coaching should be allowed across the events and regardless of gender. "The WTA believes that there should be no difference in the standards of tolerance provided to the emotions expressed by men vs. women and is committed to working with the sport to ensure that all players are treated the same," Simon said. "We do not believe that this was done."
Ramos has drawn a fair amount of criticism from players and was involved in a controversial moment with Williams' sister, Venus, during the 2016 French Open. He accused her of communicating with her coach, something that many players do without penalty. Venus Williams disputed that, telling Ramos (via Sky News), "I'm 36 years old. I play fair."
During that tournament, Nick Kyrgios cursed out Ramos when he was called for a code violation for shouting at a ballboy. Andy Murray was given a code violation by Ramos during the 2016 Olympics, accusing Murray of calling him a "stupid umpire." Murray called him out on it, saying during a changeover, "I didn't say 'stupid umpire', I said 'stupid umpiring'. But if you want to be the star of the show, that's fine." After an incident during the 2017 French Open, Ramos penalized Rafael Nadal for taking too much time between points and Nadal told him he would never chair another of his matches again.
"Theoretically the umpires are here to analyze the match and they are not here to use the stopwatch," Nadal said then. "Otherwise we should have a stopwatch on the court. That's the whole point."