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Coco Gauff is praised after she calls out a U.S. Open chair umpire over slow play

MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

Venus Williams was on the court last night in Flushing Meadows, N.Y. The tennis legend was appearing in her 24th U.S Open. She lost to Greet Minnen, who is 26, but Minnen called Williams, who's 43, her childhood idol. And this week, the Open saw another rising tennis star assert her presence. Nineteen-year-old Coco Gauff was playing against Laura Siegemund in a first-round match on Monday. Gauff felt her opponent was taking too much time between points. She argued with the chair umpire about it, and here's what's interesting here and what we want to talk about. If you listen, you can hear that the crowd was on her side.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

COCO GAUFF: She's never ready when I'm serving. She went over the clock, like, four times. You gave her time violation once. How is this fair? No, you're calling the score, like, six seconds after the point is over.

MARTIN: And this moment seems to resonate with viewers, and we want to talk about why that might be. So we called Amira Rose Davis. She is an assistant professor at the University of Texas at Austin, where she reports on - researches race, gender, sports and politics. Good morning.

AMIRA ROSE DAVIS: Good morning.

MARTIN: So first of all, tell me your reaction when you saw the match, which Gauff ultimately won.

DAVIS: She did. I was mostly proud that she battled back. She dropped the first set, and Siegemund was playing a really great first set. But to see her resiliency and battle back was the thing that stuck out the most when I watched her. And, of course, that moment with the umpire is, I think, just a sign of her maturity in the way that she was able to advocate for herself. She actually was growing frustrated about it but didn't say anything for a while. And so my first reaction was really about the tennis. It really wasn't until later that you started to see that there was a kind of visceral reaction as clips started going viral from the match.

MARTIN: And I was interested in that because in social media, for example, that a lot of people were drawing comparisons between Gauff and Serena Williams. Why?

DAVIS: Well, I think that you're looking at Black women playing in a predominantly white sport of tennis on center court in Arthur Ashe at the U.S. Open. Serena Williams, of course, in 2018 had a very famous altercation with Carlos Ramos, the umpire in her match with Naomi Osaka, which was a very kind of viral moment. She was very frustrated, of course, and got those violations called against her. But I think that a lot of people were also responding to the crowd supporting Coco, which felt like a flip of a scenario of years of crowds who have not been as welcoming to Black girls in the sport. But I think that the U.S. Open in Arthur Ashe in particularly has always been a place that has really gotten behind U.S. stars, particularly Serena Williams, and now the kind of heir apparent Coco Gauff and other up-and-coming, rising stars.

MARTIN: So the umpire did eventually penalize Laura Siegemund for a time violation. Do you think that Gauff's objection made a difference here? I'm asking you to speculate, of course, but do you think it made a difference - or the crowd's reaction, for that matter?

DAVIS: Well, I think that it certainly put it on her radar to call it. But I do want to point out that three years ago at the French Open, this very referee and Laura Siegemund had another altercation over a time violation. Time violation calls are constantly happening in tennis that players are disagreeing with. And for a player like Siegemund, who does play slower, this isn't actually new. And her history with this umpire was part of what made this so frosty because she was already irritated from three years ago when she got caught giving a warning for a time violation by the same umpire. So I think it would eventually have been called. But Coco was very frustrated that it hadn't been called sooner, and her advocation certainly sped up and put it on the radar...

MARTIN: Interesting.

DAVIS: ...And made it much harder for the umpire to continue to ignore.

MARTIN: So interesting. So much there. Sports isn't just about the ball, right? Amira Rose Davis is assistant professor at the University of Texas at Austin and co-host of the sports podcast "Burn It All Down." Thank you so much.

DAVIS: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

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