Naomi Osaka beat Serena Williams to win the U.S. Open Tennis Championship on Sept. 8. This victory made Osaka the first Japanese tennis player to win a Grand Slam tournament.
Twenty-year-old Osaka was born in Osaka, Japan, to a Japanese mother and a Haitian-American father, who moved her to the U.S. when she was 3 years old. Despite having citizenship in both countries, she decided to compete for Japan. Her success at the tournament — beating Williams 6–2 and 6–4 — has quickly made her an overnight star in Japan.
However, what should have been an exhilarating moment for Osaka was muddled with controversy and doubts, given the penalties Williams received during the match. At the trophy presentation, both players were visibly distraught and crying as the crowd booed.
The controversy was due to the three violations Williams received from chair umpire Carlos Ramos, which resulted in a one-point and later a full-game penalty for the athlete. Since the violations were largely given for Williams’ behavior, Williams and many tennis fans thought her punishment was sexist, as male players have not been penalized for worse behavior in the past.
During the second set of the match, Ramos first called a violation against Williams for receiving advice from her coach during the match, which is against Grand Slam rules. Williams argued to Ramos that her coach only gave her a thumbs up.
“One thing I’ve never done is cheat, ever,” Williams said. “I don’t cheat to win. I’d rather lose.”
Later into the set, Williams received a second violation for smashing her racquet on the ground after losing a point, resulting in a one-point penalty. During a break, Williams told Ramos that she did not receive coaching during the match, asked him to apologize and called him a thief. After the exchange, Ramos gave Williams a third violation for what he called “verbal abuse.”
After the game, Billie Jean King, a former top-ranked tennis player, came to Williams’ defense, agreeing with her that the umpire’s ruling was sexist in a statement via Twitter.
“When a woman is emotional, she’s ‘hysterical’ and she’s penalized for it,” King wrote. “When a man does the same, he’s ‘outspoken’ and there are no repercussions. Thank you, [Williams], for calling out this double standard.”
Following the tournament, political cartoonist Mark Knight drew a cartoon of the incident on Sept. 10. This caused further controversy since Williams is pictured in an unflattering light — the athlete is depicted stomping on her tennis racket with a pacifier discarded on the ground. Many people also criticized the cartoon as being sexist and racist due to Williams’ over-exaggerated features and Osaka being depicted as a faceless blonde woman in the background.
Joanne Murray, better known by her pen name J.K. Rowling, was one of many to address Knight’s sexism and racism in a statement via Twitter.
“Well done on reducing one of the greatest sportswomen alive to racist and sexist tropes and turning a second great sportswoman into a faceless prop,” Murray wrote.
After facing significant opposition and harassment following the cartoon, Knight temporarily deactivated his Twitter account.
The Herald Sun, the Australian newspaper Knight illustrates for, wrote a statement in support of Knight, claiming the cartoon was never about race or gender and dubbed Knight as “Australia’s finest cartoonist.”