Serena Williams calls outburst at US Open a 'trigger moment'

Serena Williams is “The Champion,” gracing the cover of GQ’s annual “Men of the Year” issue and diving into her event-filled 2018 that included a spar with the U.S. Open chair umpire at Arthur Ashe Stadium in Queens, New York. She lost to Naomi Osaka after an altercation heard ’round the ecosystem.

In a feature for the magazine by Jeanne Marie Laskas the tennis great calls her experience at the U.S. Open a “trigger moment” and recognizes as a black woman she is at the “bottom of the bottom of the totem pole” when it comes to how her emotional reaction is viewed.

Serena sees US Open as ‘trigger moment’

Laskas notes that Williams feels remorseful about the incident with chair umpire Carlos Ramos, in which she argued with him about a second “coaching” code violation and demanded an apology.

“There are men out her that do a lot worse, but because I’m a woman, because I’m a woman, you’re going to take this away from me?” she told him after receiving a third violation for arguing.

See photos from the heated exchange: 

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Serena Williams argues with chair umpire at US Open finals
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Serena Williams argues with chair umpire at US Open finals
Sep 8, 2018; New York, NY, USA; Serena Williams of the United States yells at chair umpire Carlos Ramos in the women's final against Naomi Osaka of Japan on day thirteen of the 2018 U.S. Open tennis tournament at USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center. Mandatory Credit: Danielle Parhizkaran-USA TODAY SPORTS TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
Sept 8, 2018; New York, NY, USA; Serena Williams of the USA argues with tournament referee Brian Earley while playing Naomi Osaka of Japan in the women?s final on day thirteen of the 2018 U.S. Open tennis tournament at USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center. Mandatory Credit: Robert Deutsch-USA TODAY Sports
Sep 8, 2018; New York, NY, USA; (L-R) Naomi Osaka of Japan, Serena Williams of the United States, and chair umpire Carlos Ramos talk after Ramos charges Williams with a game penalty in the second set in the women's final on day thirteen of the 2018 U.S. Open tennis tournament at USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center. Mandatory Credit: Danielle Parhizkaran-USA TODAY SPORTS
Sep 8, 2018; New York, NY, USA; (L-R) Naomi Osaka of Japan, chair umpire Carlos Ramos, and Serena Williams of the United States during the women's final on day thirteen of the 2018 U.S. Open tennis tournament at USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center. Mandatory Credit: Danielle Parhizkaran-USA TODAY SPORTS
Sept 8, 2018; New York, NY, USA; Serena Williams of the USA argues with chair umpire Carlos Ramos (not pictured) while playing Naomi Osaka of Japan in the women?s final on day thirteen of the 2018 U.S. Open tennis tournament at USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center. Mandatory Credit: Robert Deutsch-USA TODAY Sports
2018 US Open Tennis Tournament- Day Thirteen. Serena Williams of the United States argues with chair umpire Carlos Ramos during her match against Naomi Osaka of Japan in the Women's Singles Final on Arthur Ashe Stadium at the 2018 US Open Tennis Tournament at the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center on September 8th, 2018 in Flushing, Queens, New York City. (Photo by Tim Clayton/Corbis via Getty Images)
2018 US Open Tennis Tournament- Day Thirteen. Serena Williams of the United States argues with chair umpire Carlos Ramos after receiving a one game penalty during her match against Naomi Osaka of Japan in the Women's Singles Final on Arthur Ashe Stadium at the 2018 US Open Tennis Tournament at the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center on September 8th, 2018 in Flushing, Queens, New York City. (Photo by Tim Clayton/Corbis via Getty Images)
2018 US Open Tennis Tournament- Day Thirteen. Serena Williams of the United States argues with chair umpire Carlos Ramos after receiving a one game penalty during her match against Naomi Osaka of Japan in the Women's Singles Final on Arthur Ashe Stadium at the 2018 US Open Tennis Tournament at the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center on September 8th, 2018 in Flushing, Queens, New York City. (Photo by Tim Clayton/Corbis via Getty Images)
USTA BILLIE JEAN KING NATIONAL T, NEW YORK, UNITED STATES - 2018/09/08: Serena Williams of USA reacts after receiving code violation during women's single final of US Open against Naomi Osaka of Japan at USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center. (Photo by Lev Radin/Pacific Press/LightRocket via Getty Images)
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She explained to GQ she got so mad because a lot has happened to her, especially in later rounds, over the course of her career at the U.S. Open.

She previously explained it that way in the post-match press conference and the Associated Press detailed the history.

In started in the 2004 quarterfinals when she hit a backhand that landed in and was ruled by the line judge to be in. But it was credited to her opponent and Williams lost the match.

Then there was 2009 when the line judge called a foot fault, a rare-if-ever decision in the semifinals of a Grand Slam. After William’s reaction, the chair umpire assessed a penalty point and it ended the match.

And in the 2011 final she celebrated with her familiar “Come on!” on a break point forehand to start the second set. The chair umpire ruled the point wasn’t over since her opponent was reaching for the backhand at the time, and gave the opponent the point.

“I think a person can be a little bit more sensitive to anything in that moment,” Williams told GQ. “You know, it becomes a trigger moment. When you go through a really extreme ordeal not once, not twice, not three times, it becomes a trigger moment.”

She said she doesn’t remember how this particular argument went and doesn’t try to think about it, staying in her bubble and keeping social media apps off her phone.

Serena: ‘It’s the way the country is’

The reaction to Williams’ outburst was quick on Twitter with many pointing to how differently it would be handled if she were a man in the same situation disagreeing with a call.

“Especially a black woman,” Williams said in the GQ profile. “You do research on how black women, you know, in the workforce are, there’s literally papers about it, how black women are treated if they’re angry, as opposed to white women, white men, black men. It is bottom of the bottom of the totem pole.”

Media outlets, among them the Washington Post and New York Times, covered this in the aftermath of the tournament and cited some of those studies.

The U.S. Open happened just as Judge Brett Kavanaugh was up for U.S. Supreme Court nomination and Twitter was abuzz with the reactionary comparisons to Williams’ anger and Kavanaugh’s.

From GQ:

Kavanaugh’s a white man,” Serena says, when I ask her about anger and who’s allowed to express it. “I’m a black woman. His limit is higher. My limit is way lower. And that’s where we stand right now in this world. And it’s a fact. It is literally a fact. If you don’t believe anything I say, just look at those two examples.”

Serena wants to win or lose with dignity

Williams, as she did in the days after the U.S. Open, wants to again ensure that people understand where she was coming from in terms of the ‘injustice’ of that penalty. She doesn’t want people to think she has or has ever cheated to win her 23 Grand Slam titles.

Umpires who notice a player’s coach making suspicious movements will say something to the player, who will then tell the coach to stop. As Williams explained, she can’t see the coach anyway. But Ramos went right for the violation.

“We’re here to win or lose with dignity, and that’s how I’ve always done my career,” she said.

Serena’s family tidbits

The GQ profile is littered with nuggets on the new mom and what comes next as she chases a record-tying 24 Grand Slam titles. Some of the more interesting pieces of note:

  • Though she’s long held she’d like to win a record 25 Grand Slams before leaving tennis, she tells GQ her goal is to hang it up when she wakes up and decides she “absolutely” doesn’t want to continue.
  • Williams has spent every day with her 1-year-old daughter, Olympia, and speaks to her in both English and French.
  • “The only thing I don’t love about being a mom is come 7:30, Olympia’s in bed and I get sad. I’m like, ‘Should I go to bed?’ Because them if I wake up, I get to see her again.”
  • She plans to keep her daughter’s clothes until Olympia gets a little older and both can go to foster care to give them away. The little one is already an Instagram sensation with more than 500,000 followers.

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