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Carlos Ramos, umpire in Serena Williams' final, has reputation of 'being firm but fair'

USA TODAY SPORTS logo USA TODAY SPORTS 14/09/2018 Sandra Harwitt

  Tennis - Davis Cup Draw - Semi-Finals - Zadar, Croatia - September 13, 2018   Umpire Carlos Ramos before the draw   REUTERS/Antonio Bronic © Reuters Tennis - Davis Cup Draw - Semi-Finals - Zadar, Croatia - September 13, 2018 Umpire Carlos Ramos before the draw REUTERS/Antonio Bronic

A couple of years ago, Carlos Ramos, the umpire at the center of the dispute with Serena Williams during the US Open women’s final, slipped into a tournament car and apologized to the other passengers as he had to make a phone call on the drive to the tennis courts.

It turned out that the week in question had Ramos and his wife both away on business trips and their youngest son was home. As teens tend to do, the youngster overslept the day before and didn’t get to school on time.

Carlos, not wanting his son to be a repeat offender, was taking a moment to make a wake-up call back home. School was his son's job, and one needs to be responsible when it comes to their work.

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That’s just a glimpse as to who Ramos is and how he conducts his life.

a man sitting on a motorcycle: Chair umpire Carlos Ramos during the women’s final between Serena Williams and Naomi Osaka. © Robert Deutsch, USA TODAY Sports Chair umpire Carlos Ramos during the women’s final between Serena Williams and Naomi Osaka.

When he chaired the women's final between Williams and Naomi Osaka on Saturday, a situation developed and escalated. It started with a coaching warning to Williams to Ramos eventually docking the 23-time Grand Slam champion a point penalty for breaking her racket, and a game penalty for verbal abuse for calling him a “thief.”

Williams’ response was that Ramos’ decisions were sexist, which sparked a national debate about whether Williams was treated differently because she is a woman. Five days later the incident is still a topic of conversation as Ramos is set to work this weekend's Davis Cup semifinal between the United States and Croatia in Zadar. 

Ramos declined comment when contacted by USA TODAY Sports because rules prevent him from speaking with the media.

A native of Portugal, who has lived much of his adult life in Lyon, France, the 47-year-old Ramos started umpiring in his teens and earned his gold badge, the highest level for a tennis official, in 1993.

By 2004, Michael Morrissey, a former umpire who headed up the International Tennis Federation's officiating department for many years, wanted to bring Ramos into the fold as one of the elite team of ITF/Grand Slam umpires. Besides his officiating acumen, Ramos’ ability to speak several foreign languages made him an ideal candidate.

“Carlos is an umpire with a great reputation for being firm but fair,” Morrissey said. “When I say fair I mean being able to withstand the pressures of being a chair umpire; the pressure of the players, the crowds, the occasion. He treats players equally whether they’re a qualifier or the number one seed, whether they’re a champion or a player playing in their first Grand Slam.

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“Like everyone, he has his faults, but if you’re looking for someone whose overall profile is positive for the sport, Carlos is right up there.”

Milos Raonic, the 2016 Wimbledon finalist from Canada, is playing in this weekend’s Davis Cup Playoff tie against the Netherlands in Toronto. Raonic says he respects Ramos as an umpire.

“I really can’t recall (any problems with him), which means I haven’t had any issues, which is the best way I can put it,” Raonic told USA TODAY Sports. “If I had something that I was disappointed about I would remember the negative more than the positive. So if I can’t recall any individual situations I would say I never had any points of concern with him.”

Morrissey watched the footage of the women’s final and derived a few opinions, beginning with feeling sad that Osaka won her first Grand Slam title amidst all the controversy.

“I don’t think Carlos was ever accusing her of cheating, but Serena appeared to take it very personally,” Morrissey said. “That made the situation difficult to deal with. My take on it was that Carlos waited for Serena to calm down, which is what most umpires do. All you try to do is let a player let off some steam and try not to put oil on the fire. Unfortunately, Serena kept coming back, revisiting the whole thing.”

In Morrissey’s estimation, there was no evidence that Ramos was operating with any preconceived agenda.

Serena Williams, right, talks with chair umpire Carlos Ramos after being defeated by Naomi Osaka, of Japan, in the women's final of the U.S. Open tennis tournament, Saturday, Sept. 8, 2018, in New York. (AP Photo/Adam Hunger) © AP Serena Williams, right, talks with chair umpire Carlos Ramos after being defeated by Naomi Osaka, of Japan, in the women's final of the U.S. Open tennis tournament, Saturday, Sept. 8, 2018, in New York. (AP Photo/Adam Hunger)

“I think there’s a big jump between saying that things went wrong at the end of that match, and saying they were very regrettable and we all wish it didn’t happen that way, to Carlos made bad decisions and he made bad decisions from a certain motivation,” Morrissey said.

Francesco Ricci Bitti, who served as the president of the International Tennis Federation from 1999 to 2015, believes part of the problem is women's players operate under two sets of rules regarding coaching. The WTA allows for on-court coaching visits at its tournaments, which Williams doesn’t utilize, while the Grand Slams do not.

“I’m very against the view of the WTA to allow coaching on court as it’s created a lot of confusion,” Ricci Bitti said. “It’s for the sake of some show to allow this coaching on court, which is less respectful for the women. Sometimes the player doesn’t look so good during that coaching. Maybe the coaching rules need to be reviewed.”

In the big picture, Ricci Bitti said he believes Ramos, whom he knows well, handled the situation as he is supposed to according to the rules.

“He’s one of the best in the world at this,” Ricci Bitti said. “He’s experienced, qualified and did everything right. To press forward that he was sexist I don’t think is appropriate.

“This was a story of bad control by a great champion, perhaps the greatest in the world,” he added. “But Serena showed weaknesses. She’s not a good loser.”


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