In its nearly 140-year history, the U.S. Open has certainly been host to its fair share of controversial moments.
Scandals have widely been centered around the athletes themselves — with reactions from the fans often taking things to the next level. Debate has been sparked over everything from clothing choices to trash talking to (bizarrely) a banana. While some of these flame-fueled moments left little lasting impact, others have come to define stars’ careers, or spark larger discussions about inequality within the sport.
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Below, seven of the most controversial moments in the U.S. Open’s history.
Serena Williams Loses a Game Point in the 2018 Women’s Final
Serena Williams lost to Naomi Osaka in the 2018 women’s final — but post-match headlines ended up centering around controversy instead of Osaka’s big win. Williams was handed a $17,000 fine for three code violations, including coaching, breaking her racket and the “verbal abuse” of chair umpire Carlos Ramos.
The Off-White x Nike-clad athlete called the penalties sexist, leading to international discussion of inequality within her sport. She addressed the controversy in a July Harper’s Bazaar essay, writing that the moment “exemplified how thousands of women in every area of the workforce are treated every day,” and she “won’t ever stop raising my voice against injustice.”
Alizé Cornet Changes Her Shirt in First Round at 2018 Tournament
Discussion of sexism was underway at the 2018 tournament before Serena Williams’ finals controversy. French athlete Alizé Cornet was given a code violation for briefly removing her shirt during a round 1 matchup. Cornet took off her Lacoste top during a heat-mandated break, as she had accidentally put it on backward. Fans and players alike were quick to criticize the violation, pointing out that men are allowed to change their shirts. Ultimately, tournament officials apologized to Cornet and clarified that all players are allowed to change in their chairs or off court.
Maria Sharapova Accused of Coaching at 2006 Women’s Final
Maria Sharapova’s only U.S. Open title came in 2006 — but some questioned whether the Nike star had legitimately won. Her father, Yuri, was spotted holding a banana at least twice in the match, leading to accusations that he was illegally coaching his daughter. Sharapova explained away the controversy by saying her father was merely reminding her to eat something.
Serena Williams Wears a Catsuit on the Court in 2002
Serena Williams is ever the fashionista on the court, and one of the most memorable looks from her early days came at the 2002 U.S. Open. Then backed by Puma, she sported a black catsuit from the brand on the court. Many derided the look as impractical for play — and post-match press conferences centered around the ensemble, which the star had submitted to tournament officials for pre-approval. In the end, the outfit clearly didn’t impact Williams’ on-court performance, as she came away with the women’s singles title.
Years later, Williams would find herself in catsuit-related headlines once again. At the 2018 French Open, the 23-time Grand Slam champ wore a superhero-like Nike catsuit to regulate her temperature after facing post-pregnancy complications. Her outfit was banned post-tournament as the French Tennis Federation tightened regulations — leaving social media users enraged. Williams herself shrugged off all the talk, saying that “the Grand Slams have a right to do what they want to do.”
Andy Roddick and Novak Djokovic Fight at 2008 Open
Andy Roddick (now retired) and Novak Djokovic are two of the biggest names in the sport, so tensions ran high when they faced each other in 2008. Apparently, things got heated in the locker room after Djokovic won the match. Roddick took offense to the younger player “chirping” at him after the victory, leading to a small altercation in the locker room.
Ilie Nastase Pretends to Sleep in 1979 Match Against John McEnroe
In a second-round match against American John McEnroe, Ilie Nastase pretended to sleep on the baseline in protest of what he perceived as McEnroe stalling between points. Nastase was given a one-point penalty for the behavior and then eventually was defaulted by the empire — leading to chaos on the court.
After about 20 minutes of mayhem, Nastase was reinstated, play continued and McEnroe won in four sets. The two men didn’t seem to harbor lingering resentment, as they went to dinner together that night.
Martina Navratilova Defects to U.S. in 1975
Not all controversies are born on the court. With tensions between the United States and Soviet Union at a high in the 1970s, Martina Navratilova made the decision to defect to the U.S. during the Open. The then-18-year-old marched down to the Immigration and Naturalization Service building in New York to defect. While the Czech-born Navratilova is today considered one of the greatest women’s tennis players of all-time, she first made her name known as a youngster by leaving the U.S.S.R. behind.
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