Most Controversial Tennis Moments at the US Open Over the Years

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.

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.”

Serena Williams reacts towards umpire Carlos Ramos during the women's finalUS Open Tennis Championships, Day 13, USTA National Tennis Center, Flushing Meadows, New York, USA - 08 Sep 2018
Serena Williams reacts toward umpire Carlos Ramos during the women’s final at the U.S. Open Tennis Championships on Sept. 8.
CREDIT: Dave Shopland/Shutterstock

Alize Cornet of France talks to the media after receiving a wrongful code violation during yesterdays matchUS Open Tennis Tournament, Day 3, Billie Jean King National Tennis Center, New York, USA - 29 Aug 2018
Alize Cornet gets emotional talking to the media the day after receiving a wrongful code violation at the U.S. Open.
CREDIT: Rob Prange/Shutterstock

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.

Maria Sharapova, winner of the women's singles final at the US OpenUS Open Tennis Womens Singles Final, Flushing Meadows, New York, America - 09 Sep 2006
Maria Sharapova poses with her trophy after winning the 2006 U.S. Open women’s singles final.
CREDIT: Steve Wood/Shutterstock


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.”

Serena Williams U.S. Open Shoes
Serena Williams on the court at the 2002 U.S. Open wearing a catsuit with white and pink Pumas.
CREDIT: AP Images

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.

Novak Djokovic of Serbia Reacts After Defeating Andy Roddick of the Us During Their Quarter Finals Round Match On the Eleventh Day of the 2008 Us Open Tennis Tournament in Flushing Meadows New York Usa On 04 September 2008Usa Tennis Us Open - Sep 2008
Novak Djokovic reacts after beating Andy Roddick in a match at the 2008 U.S. Open.
CREDIT: Jason Szenes/Shutterstock

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.

Tournament referee Mike Blanchard, second from left, tries to get the match back underway between John McEnroe, left, and Ilie Nastase, right, during the US Open Tennis Championships in New York . The game referee had awarded one game of the set to McEnroe because Nastase refused to play because of crowd noiseMcEnroe vs. Natase 1979, New York, USA
A tournament official tries to get the match back underway between John McEnroe (L) and Ilie Nastase at the 1979 U.S. Open.
CREDIT: Ron Frehm/Shutterstock

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.

Martina Navratilova , Us Open, tennis star
Martina Navratilova on court at the 1991 U.S. Open.
CREDIT: Shutterstock

Below, see Stan Smith discuss his iconic Adidas sneaker.

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