The chair umpire that Serena Williams called a thief in Saturday’s U.S. Open women’s final has long been one of the on-court officials willing to enforce the rules without fear or favour on the game’s biggest stars, male and female.
The umpire, Carlos Ramos, a 47-year-old from Portugal, was the focus of Williams’s ire during her 6-2, 6-4 loss to Naomi Osaka. Ramos gave Williams three code-of-conduct violations – for illegal coaching, racket abuse (she threw it down in anger or frustration) and verbally abusing a judge, the last of which resulted in Osaka being rewarded a game in the second set.
After the match, Williams was fined a total of US$17,000: US$10,000 for verbal abuse, the largest single fine of the U.S. Open so far; US$4,000 for the coaching violation; and US$3,000 for racket abuse. According to the rule book, players are subject to fines up to $20,000 for each of those offences.
Ramos is one of the most experienced match officials in tennis. Players chase the career Grand Slam by trying to win all four of the major titles. Chair umpires use similar terminology among themselves, and Ramos has completed a “Golden Slam” by being in the chair for men’s singles finals at all four Grand Slam tournaments and at the 2012 men’s Olympic singles final between Andy Murray and Roger Federer.
Ramos also has officiated in high-profile Davis Cup matches, a men’s team event where emotions can run even higher than they ran Saturday.
While there was much criticism of Ramos on social media after the match, and top tennis players have been less than appreciative of his calls, some in the world of officials defended him.
“Carlos has been one of the top tennis umpires in the world since the mid-1990s and has a reputation for being firm but fair in his handling of the players,” said Mike Morrissey, a former top chair umpire and former head of officiating for the International Tennis Federation.
Still, players such as Venus Williams, Novak Djokovic, Andy Murray, Rafael Nadal and Nick Kyrgios have complained on court after receiving code violations from Ramos.
At the 2016 French Open, Venus Williams disputed an illegal coaching call, saying: “I’m 36 years old. Never in my life have I had a coaching violation. No, I don’t do that.”
In 2017 during a fourth-round match between Nadal and Roberto Batista Agut at the French Open, Ramos penalized Nadal for two time violations, the second of which cost Nadal a point (not that it mattered much in his 6-1, 6-2, 6-2 victory).
“There are umpires who sometimes put more pressure than others, and you have to accept this,” Nadal said after that match.
Nadal added: “I’m telling you this with some type of sadness, because I don’t want to have any problems. But this umpire is, I think, trying in a certain way to look for my faults, my errors. This is the impression I have.”
In the same interview, Nadal said of Ramos, “I respect him a lot.”
Active chair umpires such as Ramos are generally not permitted to give interviews because of tour policies. Ramos has not spoken publicly about Saturday’s match in which Williams accused him of being “a thief” and also accused him of sexism for dealing with her more harshly than he would have a male player in the same circumstances.
“I’ve seen other men call other umpires several things,” she said after the match Saturday. “I’m here fighting for women’s rights and for women’s equality and for all kinds of stuff. For me to say ‘thief’ and for him to take a game, it made me feel like it was a sexist remark. He’s never taken a game from a man because they said ‘thief.’ ”
There is no record of any men’s player calling Ramos a thief during a match. But he has certainly not been reticent to penalize men. He gave Murray a code violation during the 2016 Olympics after Murray accused him of “stupid umpiring.”
“No sexist issue there,” said Chris Evert, the former world No. 1, on Sunday. “His history with men players shows that.”
Although Ramos has focused more on officiating men’s matches during his career, he has officiated at three of the four women’s Grand Slam singles finals: the French Open, Wimbledon and the U.S. Open.
“Top umpires have to be able to withstand the pressures put on them by top players who do not own the court, who have to play by the same rules and code of conduct as the qualifier, the new finalist and the softly spoken player,” Morrissey said.
“I think that Carlos waited and waited to let Serena let off steam and get back into the match. Sadly that wasn’t to be, and the ‘thief’ accusation is not one any chair umpire on any court should ignore.”
Williams herself said she had not had negative experiences when Ramos had worked her matches in the past.
“Not at all,” she said Saturday. “He’s always been a great umpire.”
But she told Ramos on Saturday in the heat of the moment that he would “never” officiate one of her matches in the future. Players do not have the power to make those decisions, although tour supervisors have in the past discreetly kept chair umpires from working the matches of players with whom they have had altercations. But those breaks – known as “vacations” – are not permanent breaks.
New York Times