(Reuters) – Former world number one Billie Jean King has softened her initial stance on the controversy over Serena Williams, who was “totally out of line” when she vehemently disputed calls by chair umpire Carlos Ramos during Saturday’s U.S. Open final.
Ramos, however, could have prevented the affair had he communicated better and given Williams a ‘soft warning’ instead of a code violation when he saw her coach Patrick Mouratoglou giving signals during the match, King said.
Williams was issued a warning, point and then game penalty after she argued with Ramos during the final, which was won 6-2 6-4 by Japan’s Naomi Osaka.
“Serena was out of line. There’s no question,” King told CNN on Tuesday. “No one is saying she was a good sport. If they are they are crazy.
“She was totally out of line. She knows it.”
King’s remarks to CNN were something of a walk back of her earlier comments when she said in a Washington Post editorial that Williams had faced down sexism with her protests.
She also did not criticise Williams’ on-court behaviour.
King, however, said Williams was not aware she had been handed a first violation and was surprised to have a point taken from her when she received a second for later smashing her racquet.
The loss of the point prompted Williams to call Ramos a “thief”, which led to a third violation for verbal abuse that resulted in the umpire issuing a game penalty, although he could have prevented the incident from escalating, King said.
“The point is he (aggravated) the situation. ‘I’m not attacking your character,’ is the most important thing he could have said,” King told CNN.
“I think everything would have been different.”
King said she hoped the incident would bring about needed changes to the sport, including allowing for direct communication between the umpire and the fans over a loudspeaker and ending the ban on coaching during Grand Slam matches.
“Crisis creates an opportunity to get it right,” she said.
(Reporting by Rory Carroll; Editing by Greg Stutchbury)