It is said that umpires and referees are doing a good job if fans don’t notice they are there. If that’s the case then Carlos Ramos’s performance during Saturday’s controversial US Open final was a failure. The Portuguese umpire penalised Serena Williams three times during her loss to Naomi Osaka, ultimately awarding the Japanese player a game after Williams called Ramos a “thief”. Williams accused Ramos of sexism, pointing out that men are rarely called out for such outbursts.
Ramos is a “gold-badge” umpire, a status conferred on the top officials in tennis. He has vast experience and has umpired a final at all four grand slams, as well as the 2012 Olympic men’s final, in which Andy Murray beat Roger Federer.
Ramos also has a reputation as a stickler for the rules. At last year’s French Open, he drew criticism from the eventual champion, Rafael Nafal after they argued during a fourth-round match. Ramos gave Nadal two warnings for slow play, and the Spaniard felt he was being unfairly treated.
“I say it with sadness, but he is an umpire who scrutinises me more and who fixates on me more,” Nadal said after the match. “He also pressured me about coaching. I have respect for him and all I ask is for that to be reciprocated.
“The umpires are here to analyse the match and they are not here to use the stopwatch. There are some who like to take part in the matches more and who like to put more pressure on than others. If you want to see good tennis, you have to let the players breathe a little.”
Ramos has also been accused of inconsistencies. At this year’s Wimbledon quarter-final between Novak Djokovic and Kei Nishikori both players threw their rackets to the ground in frustration. However, only Djokovic was issued a warning and directed a comment at the umpire during the game: “Double standards, my friend, double standards,” he told Ramos. After the match, Djokovic brought the subject up again with reporters. “I thought I didn’t harm the grass. I know how I threw the racket. [Nishikori] even threw the racket in the fourth set. [Ramos] said he didn’t see it it.”
Ramos has also been accused of grandstanding. At the 2016 Olympics, he issued Andy Murray with a code violation when he thought the reigning champion had called him “stupid”.
“I didn’t say ‘stupid umpire’, I said ‘stupid umpiring’. But if you want to be the star of the show, that’s fine,” said Murray as the two spoke during a break between games.
Williams’s sister, Venus, has a history with Ramos too. At the 2016 French Open he accused the elder Williams of receiving coaching during a match, the same offence he penalised Serena for on Saturday. Like her sister, Venus denied she had cheated. “I’m 36 years old,” she said. “I play fair.”
Although it is impossible to prove whether Ramos was being pedantic or sexist during Saturday’s final, it is true that he has never penalised a player a game in such a high-stakes match. For former US Open champion Billie Jean-King there is little doubt where the blame lay. “When a woman is emotional, she’s hysterical’ and she’s penalized for it. When a man does the same, he’s ‘outspoken’ and there are no repercussions,” she wrote on Twitter. “Thank you, Serena Williams, for calling out this double standard. More voices are needed to do the same.”