Since beginning her professional career in 1995, Serena Williams has been somewhat of an enigma.
In the early days of her career, Williams was a fiery and unfiltered competitor. She would frequently berate officials and let her thoughts be known when she felt she was wronged on the court. Bursts of outrage in the 2004, ‘09 and ‘11 U.S. Open’s cemented Williams’ status as a dominant player who had a propensity for losing her cool.
About five years ago, though, Williams decided to make a change. She decided to transition from an uncensored version of herself to one who was an appropriate spokesman not only for the game of tennis, but also one on racial, social and gender inequality issues.
Prior to last weekend’s U.S. Open, it was believed that the first chapter of Williams’ career was closed. While still a fiery competitor on her quest to become the greatest women’s tennis player of all-time (if she has not reached that plateau already), Williams had dialed back her public criticisms of officiating. That all changed when Williams ran into umpire Carlos Ramos.
After Williams’ coach, Patrick Mouratoglou, gestured to her from the player box, Ramos issued her a code violation. This marked the beginning of Williams’ outrage, but the two seemingly came to an understanding on the situation after a brief conversation. Williams misinterpreted Ramos’ message, though and the code violation remained intact.
Later in the match, Williams became frustrated with her performance against 20-year-old Naomi Osaka and slammed her racket on the ground in anger. This led to another code violation, but that’s not what drew Williams’ ire. Realizing that the previous code violation remained in effect, Williams lost her cool and unloaded on Ramos, telling him that she would rather lose than cheat. The damning word came when Williams called Ramos a “thief” for taking away a point from her, which led to a third code violation and the forfeiture of a game.
Were Ramos’s rulings justified? That is up for debate and there is no consensus to determine if Ramos made the right decisions. However, one thing that is not up for debate is Williams’ tirade taking viewers back to the early days of her career.
Fans had not seen Williams explode on an official in that manner since the 2011 Open, where Williams felt she received some unfair officiating. Her actions in Flushing provided viewers with a flashback to the early days of Williams’ career where her temper would sometimes get the best of her.
In the postgame press conference, Williams reverted to her more reserved ways and discussed the issues of the match in an eloquent manner. Frankly, Williams was excellent in the way she conducted herself in the post-game presser, addressing a bigger issue that she took away from the events of the night.
“I’m going to continue to fight for women and for us to have equal…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 wants to express themselves and they want to be a strong woman,” Williams said. “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.”
Williams’ well-spoken statement shows how far she has come since she began her professional career 23 years ago. The younger version of Serena would’ve continued to blast the official while speaking to the media, but the matured Williams reeled in her emotions and conducted herself like a seasoned vet.
Will this be the last time we see another Williams outburst? That remains to be seen, but for the first time on Sept. 9, we saw a mix of the two sides of Serena.
Tyler Calvaruso is a journalism major from Howell, NJ. He can be reached at email@example.com or on Twitter @tyler_calvaruso.