Aggression at US Open sparks conversation among Lee tennis athletes
The much anticipated U.S. Open championship received national attention, but the headlining news had less to do with the Grand Slam winner and more with the loser.
Seasoned player Serena Williams faced twenty-year-old rising star Naomi Osaka in an eventful match that sparked much discussion—as Williams expressed her frustration through actions such as yelling at the umpire and shattering her tennis racket. This behavior resulted in fines, penalties and a worldwide conversation about aggression in sports.
While some activists for social equality took this opportunity to praise Williams for her headstrong attitude, others criticized her rule-breaking actions. Senior Lee tennis player Nicole Shennett believes that Williams’s behavior was unprofessional. While she explained that having so much at stake for one match comes with unimaginable pressure, there is still a fine line between being a fierce competitor and being out of control.
“It’s a lot of pressure, but that’s why you’re a professional,” Shennett said. “You don’t have to always express your anger, and you can still be a great player.”
Similarly, Alejandro Bejar, the men’s and women’s tennis graduate assistant coach, understands the tensions in such a high-profile match, especially due to Williams’ reputation. He says that dramatics can sometimes be a tactic, but there is still a limit.
“Sometimes players will [show aggression] to break someone’s rhythm,” said Bejar. “But again, that line should never be crossed.”
Bejar explained that smashing a racket and consistently making comments to the umpire overstepped boundaries. He says that Lee’s program would not tolerate similar behavior.
However, frustration with the match wasn’t the only driving factor of Williams’ actions. According to USA Today, Williams was enraged because she believed that the three-fold penalties contained a hint of sexism. She stated that male tennis players could act with much more disrespect yet receive a lesser penalty.
Junior tennis player Daniel Prata does not agree with this notion, stating that male tennis players have received similar treatment.
“That same ref has put limits on big players like Novak Djokovic,” Prata said. “He gave code violations to them.”
As a female athlete, Shennett also spoke to this issue. While she believes in equal rights and treatment for women in the sport, she does not agree with Williams' use of women’s rights as the qualification for her ill-mannered actions in the final.
In addition, Shennett believes that, in trying to make a spectacle of righteousness for women, her actions had the opposite effect, as she robbed Osaka of her spotlight. Shennett said that Williams' constant comments on the court and in the media stole attention from a deserving young woman.
“How could [Osaka] look up to her anymore?” said Shennett. “No matter what, [Osaka] deserved to win. … Someone should not take that victory away from her, especially someone like Serena, who she looked up to.”
While some believe that this fiery behavior can be used as a tool in the game and should be utilized in the fight for gender equality, others have expressed that aggression should remain within the confines of the rule book and left off the court. Bejar concluded that, though pressure has a heavy hand in the situation, one must be careful not to go too far.
“I know from personal experience—I played at a Division I school—that things can get a little bit more rowdy and more competitive [with big schools and rankings],” said Bejar. “That might be a reason, but there’s always a line.”