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LISBON: Umpire Carlos Ramos has made his first public statement since the US Open, saying he was ‘good’ despite the firestorm of controversy that followed his officiating of last weekend’s women’s final between Serena Williams and Naomi Osaka.

The 47-year-old Portuguese handed out three code violations to runner-up Williams on Saturday, prompting a heated on-court argument with the 23-time Grand Slam champion and sparking a debate about sexism in tennis.

“I am good, under the circumstances,” Ramos was quoted as saying in Portugal’s Tribuna Expresso. “It’s an unhappy situation but a la carte refereeing doesn’t exist. “Don’t you worry about me!”

Ramos, who told the newspaper that he had avoided walking the streets of New York on Sunday to avoid any ‘complicated situations’, confirmed he would be back in the chair on Friday in Zadar, Croatia.

The International Tennis Federation (ITF), which on Monday issued a statement describing Ramos as one of the most respected umpires in tennis, has appointed him to officiate the semi-final of the Davis Cup, the international men’s team event, between Croatia and the United States.

The United States Tennis Association (USTA) and Women’s Tennis Association (WTA) both publicly backed the allegations of sexism levelled at Ramos after Saturday’s match.

Williams was fined $17,000 and docked a point and a game for three code violations during the match, including breaking a racket and verbally abusing the umpire.

Billie Jean King, the former world number one who founded the WTA in the 1970s, said on Tuesday all sides shared blame for the incident, saying Williams was ‘out of line’ but that Ramos could have prevented the controversy with more leniency and clearer communication.

Ramos was unable to defend himself in public in New York as the row escalated over the weekend as ITF rules prevent umpires from commenting on their matches.

The incident sparked another social media storm on Monday when a cartoon was published in an Australian newspaper depicting Williams with exaggerated features, which civil rights activist Rev. Jesse Jackson among others described as ‘racist’.

The Herald Sun, owned by News Corp, defied allegations of racism on Wednesday when it reprinted the cartoon on its front page, attempting to portray the controversy as a matter of freedom of speech.

The Melbourne paper’s cartoonist Mark Knight’s caricature of Williams throwing a tantrum at the US Open was originally printed on Monday, attracting widespread condemnation from across the world.

Under the front-page headline ‘WELCOME TO PC WORLD’, the newspaper wrote on Wednesday that “if the self-appointed censors of Mark Knight get their way on his Serena Williams cartoon, our new politically correct life will be very dull indeed”.

The cover included caricatures of other Australian and foreign political leaders drawn by Knight.

The veteran cartoonist added he had suspended his Twitter account to protect his family and friends.

Prior to disabling his account, his tweet of the cartoon had attracted more than 22,000 comments, most of them critical.

Knight labelled the outcry against his cartoon as a sign that the “world has just gone crazy”.

“I drew this cartoon Sunday night after seeing the US Open final, and seeing the world’s best tennis player has a tantrum and thought that was interesting,” he said in quotes published on the paper’s website. “The cartoon about Serena is about her poor behaviour on the day, not about race.”

The caricature has also sparked renewed debate in Australia about racist and sexist discourse in the highly multicultural nation.

“I thought they went over the top. The depiction of Serena was pretty vile,” Melbourne commuter Louise Rodbourn said, echoing the mood of many city workers on Wednesday.

“I think it’s disgusting. I find it really, a little offensive,” added fellow Melbourne resident Nowal Kahsai.

But some said the controversy had gone too far.

“She’s a fantastic tennis player and we should all see past that,” commuter Donna Weitacher said. “This is his [Knight’s] job, isn’t it? This is what he does for a living and we’ve all appreciated what he’s done over the years in all different cartoons. Some of them very, very funny.”

Published in Dawn, September 13th, 2018