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Officials may boycott over Serena Williams' conduct at U.S. Open

Officials may boycott over Serena Williams' conduct at U.S. Open
Serena Williams argues with referee Brian Earley during her U.S. Open women's singles finals match against Naomi Osaka on Sept. 8. (Elsa Garrison / Getty Images)

The fireworks involving the controversial U.S. Open women’s final and Serena Williams appear far away from match point. In fact, one of the most senior tennis officials in America plans to light a fuse or two.

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Bob Christianson, of San Diego, has worked 38 consecutive Opens, including the most recent. By the time Williams and Japan’s Naomi Osaka tangled in Saturday’s final — and Williams and chair umpire Carlos Ramos tangled about rulings — the veteran had returned to his Southern California living room.

What he saw and heard left him seething. Christianson isn’t buying the sexism argument Williams pushed in the heat of the moment, or the double-standard debate backed by USTA President Katrina Adams.

“That’s the worst brouhaha I’ve witnessed in my 40-plus years of tennis officiating,” Christianson, 67, told the San Diego Union-Tribune on Thursday. “What we’re looking for, we’re looking for an apology from Serena to the official or officials in general. And if we don’t get that, there might be a potential boycott of her next match.

“We’ve never had to go to this extent. But officials are scared. They’re worried what happened to Carlos could happen to them.”

Christianson called out Adams and WTA chief executive Steve Simon for “throwing us under the bus” as the International Tennis Federation rushed to support Ramos. He said a colleague was bulldozed by celebrity and money for simply doing his job.

“We as officials have no spokesman or advocate for us,” he said. “And we’re not supposed to talk to the press without permission. So we have no way to get our point across. We’re completely muzzled. You reach a point in life, you have to make a stand.”

Representatives of the WTA did not immediately return messages seeking comment about the possible boycott and Christianson’s criticisms. Williams’ longtime agent, Jill Smoller, could not be reached.

Posed with questions about the back-in-the-day theatrics of men’s stars like John McEnroe and Jimmy Connors, Christianson contended gender played no factor with Williams.

“Way back in that era, they didn’t have a formalized code of conduct yet,” he said. “They didn’t need it until those guys came around. Once someone gets a warning and point penalty, it usually ends. They don’t keep badgering the official the way Serena did. She kept going. She kept pointing fingers. She wouldn’t stop.

“I did a lot of McEnroe matches. He wouldn’t go on and on, minute after minute. He would have, at some point, calmed down because he feared a game penalty. But she didn’t.

“And her coach admitted to coaching [a violation]. And she called Carlos a ‘thief’ [and a ‘liar’]. That’s a clear violation. So was breaking the racket.”

Christianson pointed out that men finished with more than twice as many code-related fines than women at the Open — 26 to 12.

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Williams is on the preliminary entry list for the China Open, which starts Sept. 29. Christianson said the boycott idea originated among European officials, but he’s been able to identify broad support based on the nearly 200 emails, texts and calls he estimated he’s received since the incident.

Christianson acknowledged that with no official organization representing tennis officials, no one can ensure a boycott will take place. However, he predicted that pressure would mount.

“The person who took it may regret taking it, if you follow me,” Christianson said about any official who agrees to handle Williams’ next match. “There’s a pretty tight-knit group with officials.”

Christianson understands, too, that Williams is the top earning female athlete in the world and the undisputed marquee draw in women’s tennis.

“Nobody pays to see officials work,” he said. “We know the almighty dollar is paramount and wins out over everything. And that will probably be the case here again.”

Christianson knows he owns a bias for a colleague, but stands firm.

“There’s no sexism here,” he said. “She’s had blow-ups like this before, usually when she’s losing. And Carlos is one of the best in the world. … Even Serena has said he’s excellent. (“He’s always been a great umpire,” she said after Saturday’s match.)

“And the game penalty was cleared with [the other officials] before he even gave it.”

Will there be a boycott? That remains unclear.

Something more certain: The volleying between Williams and officials will continue.

Miller is a columnist for the San Diego Union-Tribune.

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