Carlos Ramos, the umpire at the center of the storm surrounding Serena Williams at the US Open, was “thrown under a bus” by tennis’ governing bodies, says a former top-level umpire.
Speaking to CNN World Sport’s Don Riddell, Richard Ings said the treatment of Ramos after a final which sparked debate about sexism in tennis would have left “umpires everywhere seething.”
Saturday’s final descended into controversy in the second set when Williams was given a code violation for getting signals from her coach, handed a point penalty for smashing her racket and then docked a game for an outburst in which she called Ramos a “liar” and a “thief.” She was later fined $17,000 for the three code violations.
“Carlos Ramos has been a professional umpire for four decades,” said Ings. “There’s no one more experienced, no one more knowledgeable, no one more capable as an umpire than Carlos Ramos.
“If governing bodies can throw him under a bus then umpires everywhere are seething … They’ve lost their safety factor of knowing that these governing bodies will support them.”
‘A watershed moment in officiating’
Williams’ claims of sexism were backed by the governing body of women’s tennis, the Women’s Tennis Association (WTA), whose chief executive said the umpire had shown the 36-year-old a different level of tolerance than if she had been a man.
The United States Tennis Association (USTA) also supported Williams’ claims, while Billie Jean King, founder of the WTA and winner of 12 grand slam singles titles, told CNN Tuesday that though Williams was “out of line,” Ramos had aggravated the situation.
“I felt like at the very beginning he blew it,” King said. “As an umpire you’re supposed to keep the flow of the match going and he did just the opposite.”
On Monday, the International Tennis Federation said Ramos acted “at all times with professionalism and integrity,” a statement welcomed by Ings, who was a professional chair umpire from 1986 to 1993.
“This has been a bit of a watershed moment in the history of professional officiating,” he told CNN.
“Until this moment in time, professional officials expected that when they made tough decisions on court they’d be fully backed by the governing bodies. But, in this case, particularly through the WTA, this has not happened. We just made life difficult for umpires everywhere.
“Every match is different and every incident is different and Carlos did a tremendous job in this particular match.”
Ings, who was the director of officiating for the ATP Tour from 2001-2005, added: “It’s great the ITF has put out a message of support but the WTA needs to do something to protect the interest of umpires and make sure players show respect to officials on court.”
Ings said the incident itself would not worry umpires but the handling of it would be an issue.
“What happened on court in this particular match is not something that is going to trouble professional umpires. Players get upset on court, players get code violations on court. The incidents on the court are not the issue,” he added.
“The big issue for umpires everywhere is the importance of the support of governing bodies when umpires are just out there doing their job and making decisions under rules which are given to them by those very governing bodies.”
Portugese newspaper Tribuna Expresso reported that Ramos had avoided walking the streets of New York on Sunday to avoid any “complicated situations.”
“It’s an unhappy situation but ‘à la carte’ refereeing doesn’t exist. Don’t you worry about me,” the 47-year-old is quoted as saying in the newspaper.
Ramos will next umpire at the US-Croatia Davis Cup semi-final in Zadar, Croatia this weekend.
According to the Guardian, the sport’s top umpires are considering forming a union as a result of the fallout from the women’s final.
Under the terms of their contracts, umpires – who are employed by grand slams and men’s and women’s tours – are not allowed to speak out publicly.