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The "Code" in Serena Williams' US Open Finals Code Violations

Saral Minocha
CONTRIBUTOR
Feature
845   //    10 Sep 2018, 23:30 IST

2018 US Open - Day 13
2018 US Open - Day 13

The controversies surrounding the Women's Singles Final at the US Open 2018 involve several issues including, but not limited to, sexism, racism, officiating, conduct of players and officials etc. At the core of those issues, however, were the calls made by the Umpire against Serena Williams. Most readers would have come across the term "code violations" in any writing covering the Final.

Whether elements of racism, sexism or any other discrimination were at play needs closer scrutiny, which I shall strive to undertake in another article, but it is important to know exactly what breach of the law Williams was penalised for. Unfortunately, most pieces covering the US Open have not covered the law as it stands, and that's something that this article seeks to remedy.

The code of conduct governing tennis matches in Grand Slams is contained in the Grand Slam Rulebook (see page 34 of the linked document).

Article III (On-Site Offences) of the Code of Conduct deals with offences that may take place "...during all matches and at all times while within the precincts of the site of a Grand Slam Tournament".

Violation for "Coaching"

Article III. L (Coaching and Coaches) reads as follows:

Players shall not receive coaching during a match. Communications of any kind, audible or visible, between a player and a coach may be construed as coaching....
...Violation of this Section shall subject a player to a fine up to $20,000 for each violation. In addition, if such violation occurs during a match (including the warmup), the player shall be penalised in accordance with the Point Penalty Schedule hereinafter set forth below....

Let's break this down: this clause bars players from receiving "coaching". The clause itself gives an example of what "coaching" is, and states that "[c]ommunications of any kind, audible or visible, between a player and a coach may be construed as coaching." There can hardly be any doubt that Mouratoglou's hand-signals would amount to "coaching".

The next question that Ramos had to decide in the match, therefore, was whether Williams received coaching - not whether her coach Patrick Mouratoglou gave coaching. There seems to be a consensus on the internet that Mouratoglou admitted that he gave instructions through hand signals to Williams, but I feel that it is irrelevant. Ramos had to evaluate whether Williams received it.

Now, Ramos cannot possibly cast Legilimens on Williams (for non-Potterheads, it means Ramos can't read minds) and get to know for sure whether Williams actually received coaching. Thus, unless Ramos saw perhaps a nod of the head, or any other conduct on part of Williams to show that she received the communication, I feel that this call of his is somewhat suspect.

Violation for "Abuse of Racquets or Equipment"

Article III. O (Abuse of Racquets or Equipment) reads as follows:

Players shall not violently or with anger hit, kick or throw a racquet or other equipment within the precincts of the tournament site.
Violation of this Section shall subject a player to a fine up to $20,000 for each violation. In addition, if such violation occurs during a match (including the warmup), the player shall be penalised in accordance with the Point Penalty Schedule hereinafter set forth. 
For the purposes of this Rule, abuse of racquets or equipment is defined as intentionally and violently destroying or damaging racquets or equipment or intentionally and violently hitting the net, court, umpire’s chair or other fixture during a match out of anger or frustration. 

(Disclaimer: I feel that the second paragraph is otiose given that "abuse of racquets or equipment" is not used in the main paragraph and its definition, therefore, is not required. Perhaps ITF should rewrite this clause a little carefully.)

This is perhaps the most open and shut case of the three violations. When Osaka broke Williams' serve to get to 3-2 in the second set, Williams angrily threw her racquet on the court, completely destroying its shape. No doubt that Ramos should have imposed this as a violation.


2018 US Open - Day 13
2018 US Open - Day 13

Violation for "Verbal Abuse"

Article III. P (Verbal Abuse) reads:

Players shall not at any time directly or indirectly verbally abuse any official, opponent, sponsor, spectator or other person within the precincts of the tournament site.
Violation of this section shall subject a player to a fine up to $20,000 for each violation. In addition, if such violation occurs during a match (including the warmup), the player shall be penalised in accordance with the Point Penalty Schedule hereinafter set forth. 
...For the purposes of this Rule, verbal abuse is defined as a statement about an official, opponent, sponsor, spectator or other person that implies dishonesty or is derogatory, insulting or otherwise abusive. 

Upon being given a violation for racquet abuse, Williams had a heated argument with the Umpire. She began by arguing that the coaching violation was wrong, and that the Umpire owed her an apology for imposing such a penalty. She then went on to call him a "liar", at which stage the Umpire did not declare a violation. It was when she referred to him as a "thief" did he declare a violation for "verbal abuse".

I feel that he could have issued a violation even when she called him a "liar" as "that implies dishonesty". Upon being called a "thief", I think it was completely justified for him to have declared a verbal abuse violation.

The Point Penalty Schedule

The "Point Penalty Schedule" is as follows:

FIRST offence WARNING
SECOND offence POINT PENALTY
THIRD and each subsequent offence GAME PENALTY 

Williams duly received a warning after her first violation (coaching). She received a point penalty after the clear-as-day racquet abuse. And she received a game penalty for what was clearly verbal abuse.

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Saral Minocha
CONTRIBUTOR
An intellectual property lawyer with interest in sports, and laws governing and surrounding sports.
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