Serena Williams argued that she was subject to a double standard when she was cited for verbal abuse by the chair umpire Carlos Ramos during the United States Open women’s final last Saturday.
“There are men out here who do a lot worse than me, but because I’m a woman you are going to take this away from me?” she protested to Brian Earley, the tournament referee. “That is not right.”
Each situation should be evaluated on its own merits, but according to data compiled by officials at Grand Slam tournaments for the past 20 years, men are penalized more often for verbal abuse.
Those figures, obtained by The New York Times, show that from 1998 to 2018 at the four Grand Slam events, men have been fined for misbehavior with much more frequency than women with one significant exception: coaching violations.
Fines are a result of investigations by the tournament referee and the Grand Slam supervisor into code-of-conduct violations assessed by the chair umpire during a match. The figures from the Grand Slam tournaments are from all matches in qualifying, main-draw singles and doubles for a 20-year period — tens of thousands of matches.
Men have been fined 646 times for racket abuse and 287 times for unsportsmanlike conduct. Women have been fined 99 times for racket abuse and 67 times for unsportsmanlike conduct during that span.
The disparities are similar for audible obscenity fines (344 for the men, 140 for the women) and, most relevant to Williams’s complaint, verbal abuse (62 for the men, 16 for the women).
Williams was penalized for verbal abuse after calling Ramos a “thief” and “liar” in the second set of her 6-2, 6-4 loss to Naomi Osaka.
The Grand Slam rule book defines verbal abuse as a statement about an official that “implies dishonesty or is derogatory, insulting or otherwise abusive.”
Though Williams did not use an obscenity, she did accuse Ramos of dishonesty, which triggered the code-of-conduct violation and, later, a $10,000 fine for that offense.
Some of the disparity between the men’s and women’s fines can be explained by the fact that men play more tennis at Grand Slam tournaments. They play best-of-five-set matches in singles at all four majors and also best-of-five in men’s doubles at Wimbledon while women play best-of-three-set matches in all instances.
To take one example, at the 2018 U.S. Open, men played a total of 460 sets or partial sets in the main draw in singles. Women played a total of 283 sets or partial sets in singles, which amounts to 61.5 percent of the men’s figure.
There are also simply more men at Grand Slam tournaments because there are 128 qualifying spots in singles for men at the Australian Open, the French Open and Wimbledon, and only 96 for women.
But even accounting for those factors, men appear to be fined proportionally more often than women for a variety of offenses.
That does not apply to coaching, for which women have received 152 fines over the 20-year span, compared with 87 for men.
The first of Williams’s three code violations during the Open final was for illegal coaching, and her coach, Patrick Mouratoglou, later acknowledged that he used hand signals, though he was not certain that Williams had seen them.
In-match coaching is banned at all Grand Slam tournaments during main-draw singles and doubles matches.
It is unclear why women are penalized more often for violating the rule. They are accustomed to receiving in-match coaching during regular tour events, where coaches are allowed to come on court once per set with certain exceptions. This type of coaching has been allowed during WTA matches since the 2009 season, but coaching from the stands remains illegal.
There was an appreciable increase in the number of fines for female players since coaching became legal on the WTA Tour. (It should be noted that all but a handful of coaches in women’s tennis are men.)
Women received 65 fines for coaching from 1998 through 2008 at Grand Slam tournaments. In the nine-year period since 2009, they received 87 fines for coaching. But in both periods, the women’s figures remained significantly higher than the men’s. The men received 37 coaching fines from 1998 through 2008; 50 from 2009 through 2018.