Tennis legend Martina Navratilova on Serena Williams' sexism complaints: 'It wasn't the right time'

Serena Williams triggered a massive wave of discourse after her outburst toward a chair umpire during the U.S. Open final led to a game penalty and complaints of sexism from the tennis legend.

Williams incurred three different violations over the course of a bizarre second set: first for on-court coaching, then smashing her racket in frustration and finally for verbal abuse toward chair umpire Carlos Ramos. That last violation incurred a game penalty for Williams, an extraordinarily rare action for Ramos to take in a Grand Slam final.

Over the course of the fiasco, Williams demanded an apology from the umpire for accusing her of cheating, called him a thief for stealing a point from her, argued with officials and reached the point of tears. She was graceful during an awkward trophy ceremony for her opponent, Naomi Osaka, but later said she would not have received the penalty if she was a man and claimed she was fighting for women’s equality.

As one can imagine, Williams has been both widely praised and criticized throughout the sports world, but one voice that speaks loudest is that of 18-time Grand Slam singles winner Martina Navratilova.

Navratilova spoke to The New York Times, praising Williams for her message of inequality but criticizing the context in which she made her argument.

“Had I behaved like that on a tennis court, I would have expected to get everything that happened to Serena,” said Martina Navratilova, who won 18 Grand Slam singles titles and a record nine Wimbledon titles, and has been a longtime advocate for equality in the sport. “ It should’ve ended right there with the point warning, but Serena just couldn’t let it go.”

She added, “She completely had the right message about women’s inequality, but it wasn’t the right time to bring it up.”

Another all-time tennis great to address the situation was Billie Jean King, who was much more supportive of Williams and agreed that women faced a double standard in tennis.

Steve Simon, the CEO of the Women’s Tennis Association, also backed Williams. In a statement released Sunday, Simon said that the WTA did not believe that Williams had received the same standard men usually receive during her match.

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