Serena Williams Says She 'Doesn't Really Remember' Her Heated Altercation With a Referee

Serena Williams
Kristin-Lee Moolman

Serena Williams is speaking out about her controversial U.S. Open match.

The 37-year-old tennis pro covers GQ's Men of the Year issue as the champion and woman of the year. In the magazine, Williams discusses what she remembers from the September match where she called the umpire "a thief," smashed her racket and got a coaching code violation, before ultimately losing to then 20-year-old Naomi Osaka.

“I don’t really remember how it went, to be honest,” she says of the now infamous match, for which she was later fined $17,000. “I’ve been purposely not thinking about it. I don't watch TV at all. I try to keep myself in a bubble as much as I can. I just don't want to be involved in other people's opinions. Let them live how they want to feel."

That coaching code violation -- coaches aren't allowed to coach during matches -- was really what set Williams off, as umpires typically issue a warning directly to the player before counting it as a penalty.

"That was where a lot of people don't understand. That's where I was coming from. Like, usually you talk to me, tell me that something's happening, and I'll tell my box, like, whatever you're doing, don't. First, I can't see you -- I'm clear on the other side of the court. Second, don't do it. We're here to win or to lose with dignity, and that's how I've always done my career."

Serena Williams
Kristin-Lee Moolman

That call by the umpire is just one of the reasons that  Williams still stands by her -- and husband Alexis Ohanian's -- previous assertion that the penalties against her, as well as the public outcry afterwards, were inherently sexist.

“I’m a black woman…my limit [of what’s acceptable in society] is way lower," she says. "And that’s where we stand right now in this world. And it’s a fact. It's literally a fact... You don’t accept it. You talk about it like I have. You make it better for the next generation.”

Her reaction to the penalties, she says, wasn't just about that match and that moment; it was about a career of similar instances.

"I've had a lot of things happen to me at the U.S. Open," she says. "I think about three or four different things. Especially in the later rounds. I think a person can be a little bit more sensitive to anything in that moment. You know, it becomes a trigger moment. When you go through a really extreme ordeal not once, not twice, not three times, it becomes a trigger moment."

Following the match, Williams stood up for Osaka when the crowd began booing the young winner.

“I don’t want to do questions. I just want to tell you guys, she played well. And this is her first Grand Slam… I know you guys were here rooting, and I was rooting too. But let’s make this the best moment we can, and we’ll get through it," Williams said at the time. "Let’s give everyone the credit where credit’s due. Let’s not boo anymore. We’re gonna get through this, and let’s be positive. So congratulations, Naomi! No more booing.”

Later, during an appearance on Today, Osaka said she "felt like [she] had to apologize" after her win.

"I just felt like everyone was sort of unhappy up there and I know it wasn't the ending people wanted it to be, and I know that in my dreams I won, like, a very tough competitive match but I don't know," Osaka said. "I just felt very emotional and I felt like I had to apologize."

Serena Williams
Kristin-Lee Moolman

Also in her GQ cover story, Williams opens up about being a mom to her 1-year-old daughter, Olympia. 

“We do everything together,” she says. “I love everything about being a mom. The only thing I don’t love about being a mom is come 7:30, Olympia’s in bed and I get sad. I’m like, ‘Should I go to bed?’ Because then if I wake up, I get to see her again.”

Though Williams clearly loves mom life, back in March she told ET that she wants to wait to expand her family while she focuses on her career.

"I definitely want two [kids], God willing, but right now, I want tennis as well," she said at the time. "So, I'm going to wait and see what happens."

"It's definitely not easy," she added. "I have this undying drive to be the best that I can be. Whether it's [being] a mom or playing tennis or doing my designing. I just want to do the best that I can."

Watch the video below for more with Williams:


Serena Williams Cries, Calls Umpire a Thief in Controversial US Open Match

Naomi Osaka Says She 'Felt She Had to Apologize' After Beating Serena Williams

Serena Williams' Husband Alexis Ohanian Speaks Out Against 'Blatantly Racist' Cartoon of Tennis Pro

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