A cartoon of Serena Williams reacting to her US Open defeat, which was dubbed racist, has been backed by the Australian Press Council.

The cartoon by Australian Mark Knight of Melbourne's Herald Sun was published last September.

The cartoon mocked the heated exchanges between runner-up Williams and chair umpire Carlos Ramos, with Knight depicting the 23-time Grand Slam champion as a child throwing a tantrum as the umpire says to eventual champion Naomi Osaka, "Can you just let her win?"

"The council considered that the cartoon uses exaggeration and absurdity to make its point but accepts the publisher's claim that it does not depict Ms Williams as an ape, rather showing her as 'spitting the dummy', a non-racist caricature familiar to most Australian readers," the council said yesterday.

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"The Council acknowledges that some readers found the cartoon offensive. However, the Council also accepts that there was a sufficient public interest in commenting on behaviour and sportsmanship during a significant dispute between a tennis player with a globally high profile and an umpire at the US Open final."

Serena Williams reacts during the US Open final. Photo /Getty
Serena Williams reacts during the US Open final. Photo /Getty

Knight's sendup of that match was criticised at the time for how he caricatured both finalists. His Osaka figure - given her light skin, thin frame and entirely blond hair - looks like a small white woman, some critics say.

Author J.K. Rowling wrote on Twitter: "Well done on reducing one of the greatest sportswomen alive to racist and sexist tropes and turning a second great sportswoman into a faceless prop."

And British journalist Charles Thomson tweeted: "In 100 years' time, this cartoon will be viewed no differently than old images of Jim Crow, or the newspaper cartoons drawn of Jack Johnson. Mark Knight has just drawn his way into the history books."

Thomson's words note how Williams's athletic forebears - such great black champions of the early 20th century as boxers Jack Johnson and Joe Louis - were often depicted in cartoons of the era via Sambo caricatures.

- With Washington Post