Serena Williams’ heated exchange with a chair umpire at the 2018 U.S. Open on Saturday certainly isn’t the first time the 23-time Grand Slam champion has clashed with an official. In fact, there’s a pattern in Williams’ career of exchanges with officials over calls and judgements as this timeline of Williams’ controversies with tennis officials shows.
“This is not fair,” The Washington Post reported Williams said at one point while disputing the three code violations that umpire Carlos Ramos issued her during her finals match against Naomi Osaka on Saturday. “This has happened to me too many times.”
Williams later told a reporter she’d been thinking of some of her past run-ins with match officials as she had words with Ramos on the court Saturday. “I think it’s just instantly, just like, ‘Oh, gosh, I don’t want to go back to 2004,’” The Washington Post reported she said, referencing a notoriously bad call she’d been subjected to at the 2004 U.S. Open.
“Forget 2009, you know,” she added, referencing a point penalty she’d garnered at that year’s U.S. Open after an exchange with a line judge. “It started way back then. So it’s always something.”
Williams is a highly passionate player known for letting emotion fuel her performance, which has led to many tense and exhilarating moments. She has changed the sport with her dominance, but in doing so she’s had to confront countless instances of sexism and racism, both explicit and implicit. Here are five times things got tense between Williams and umpires and judges, or she was unfairly booed by a crowd.
In March 2001, both Williams and her sister, Venus, were set to play at the Indian Wells Masters, a tournament also known as the BNP Paribas Open, when a series of events — including intense booing that the Williams family said had an undercurrent of racism — led Williams to launch a 13-year boycott against the tournament.
According to USA Today, the issue started when another player publicly accused the Williams sisters’ father of deciding matches between his daughters a day before the pair were set to play each other at Indian Wells. Things intensified when, on the day of the match, Venus withdrew because of an injury.
A few days later, when Williams walked on to the court to play Kim Clijsters in the final, the crowd booed and jeered at her. Weeks later, Williams’ dad told USA Today he believed the boos were racially motivated and claimed people in crowd had called him the n-word.
Williams ended her boycott against Indian Wells in 2015.
At the 2004 U.S. Open, chair umpire Mariana Alves overruled a line judge who called a backhand Williams hit against opponent Jennifer Capriati as in. In overruling the line judge, Alves awareded the point to Capriati, despite Williams disputing the call. According to CBS News, however, a televised replay of Williams’ backhand showed the ball had indeed landed inside the line, meaning Alves had made a bad call and wrongfully taken a point from Williams.
“I’d prefer she not umpire at my court anymore,” Williams said at the time, per CBS. “She’s obviously anti-Serena.” The tournament’s referee acknowledged Alves’ mistake and said she would not officiate another match at the tournament.
The 2018 U.S. Open wasn’t the first time Williams has been penalized after an exchange with an umpire. In 2009, line judge Shino Tsurubuchi called a double-fault on Williams in a match against Kim Clijsters. It was a call “rarely, if ever, seen at that stage of any match,” according to The Washington Post. Because the call put Clijsters one point away from victory, it upset Williams, who approached Tsurubuchi while shouting profanities. According to The Telegraph, Williams was cited and penalized with a point penalty for threatening to shove a tennis ball down Tsurubuchi’s throat. That point penalty ended the match in Clijsters’ favor.
Williams also received a record $82,500 fine and a two-year probation for her conduct on court with officials warning her she would be suspended from the tournament if she was cited for any “major offenses” at a Grand Slam tournament in the next two years.
During her match with Sam Stosur at the 2011 U.S. Open, Williams approached umpire Eva Asderaki after she awarded one of Williams’ points to Stosur, citing hinderance. According to The New York Times, Williams had excitedly shouted “Come on!” after returning a backhand from Stosur with what appeared to be a winning forehand. While Stosur didn’t manage to return Williams’ shot, she did manage to at least make contact with the ball, which made Williams’ outburst eligible for penalization.
Williams had a heated exchange with Asderaki later in the match, pointing her racket at the umpire and telling her, “You’re a hater and you’re unattractive inside.” For those words, Williams was given a code violation.
Earlier this year, French Tennis Federation president Bernard Giudicelli said that Williams would not be allowed to wear the black catsuit she’d worn to this year’s French Open— which was partially inspired by Black Panther, and designed to protect her from blood clot issues — to the tournament again. Giudicelli specifically referenced Williams’ catsuit when he told Tennis Magazine that the tournament planned to institute a dress code. “It will no longer be accepted,” he said of the catsuit, as quoted by the Associated Press. “One must respect the game and the place.”
It’s worth noting that Williams has, throughout her career, also battled a number of sexist and racist remarks off the court, including body shaming, jokes about how she must really be a man, and explicit racial slurs. While the events in the 2018 U.S. Open final caused some to criticize her behavior, Williams raised an important point by calling out tennis’ double standard when it comes to policing players’ on-court decorum.
“I just feel like the fact that I have to go through this is just an example for the next person that has emotions, and that want to express themselves, and want to be a strong woman,” The Guardian reported Williams said at her post-game press conference. “They’re going to be allowed to do that because of today. Maybe it didn’t work out for me, but it’s going to work out for the next person.”