By Justine Haarberg
In perhaps one of the most memorable matches of all time, Naomi Osaka faced tennis legend Serena Williams in the U.S. Open final on Saturday, September 8th. Naomi Osaka, a 20 year old Japanese-Haitian pro, defeated Madison Keys in the semi finals, proceeded on to the finals, and played 23-time Grand Slam winner, Serena Williams.
Serena had been Osaka’s idol since she was a kid. She would dream about playing her in the Grand Slams, and her father even mimicked Serena’s father’s coaching style when training her. On September 8th, 2018, Osaka’s dream had come true as she walked onto the court to play Serena. However, little did she know, this match would not be an idealistic match against her idol.
By the end of the first set, it was obvious that Serena was having an off day, as she lost 2-6 to Osaka, who had never played in a final. During the second game of the second set, however, umpire Carlos Ramos penalized Serena for getting illegal coaching. The supposed coaching was called out when Serena’s coach, Patrick Mouratoglou, made a hand gesture toward Serena, who was at the far end of the court. Williams acknowledged Ramos and explained that her coach was just giving her a thumbs up. As the clip was replayed, it was obvious that Mouratoglou was not giving her a thumbs up, however Williams insisted that it wasn’t coaching. “I don’t cheat to win. I’d rather lose.” she told Ramos.
The feud escalated when Williams lost a game and showed her frustration through smashing her racket. Throwing a racket is an automatic code violation, and in addition to the supposed on court coaching, Osaka was awarded a point in the new game. Williams, expecting the score to be 0-0, was astonished when the umpire told her to start the game on the ad side, with the score 0-15 (Osaka). Serena approached Ramos, obviously feeling more distressed. “This is unbelievable, every time I play here I have problems.” Serena stated, referring to a 2004 Open match against Jennifer Capriati, where many unreasonable calls were made, and the 2009 semi-final against Kim Clijsters, where Williams was unfairly penalized for a foot fault.
Osaka gained a point because of the two formal warnings Serena received- the coaching and the smashing of her racket. Serena, more flustered this time, reminded the umpire that she did not cheat and receive coaching. She asked Ramos that he make an announcement informing that she was not cheating. “You owe me an apology. I have never cheated in my life. I have a daughter and I stand for what’s right for her and I have never cheated. You owe me and apology” Williams said. With no response from Ramos, Serena returned to her match, which was currently 3-2 (Serena) in the second set.
On the other side of the court, Osaka didn’t allow this dispute to conflict with her game. Within minutes, Osaka had tied it up. Following that game, she succeeded in breaking Serena’s serve, proving that she wasn’t going to let the drama interfere with her game. An upset Serena then confronted them umpire again, calling him a “thief” for taking a point away from her earlier in the match. This comment, along with many remarks calling him a “liar” and that he will “never, ever, ever be on another court of [hers] as long as [she] lives” caused Ramos to issue a third code violation. “Code violation, verbal abuse. Game penalty Mrs. Williams.” Ramos told the crowd. Spectators questioned whether Serena’s comments were deserving of a third code violation and the loss of a game in the Grand Slam Final.
Serena, on the verge of tears, called the referees on the court. She exclaimed how unfair this all was, and said that “there’s a lot of men out here that have said a lot of things and because they’re a man, that doesn’t happen to them.” “Because I’m a woman, he’s going to take this away from me.” Serena mentioned.
Returning back to the court, Osaka put an end to the match, defeating Serana 6-2, 6-4. Osaka then became a first-time Grand Slam champion at 20, and the first ever Japanese to win. What should have been one of the best moments of her life was taken away from her because of all the drama from the match. The crowd booed as the match did not end how they wanted it to. Osaka’s acceptance speech revealed how sad she felt about the results of the match. “I know that everyone was cheering for her. I’m sorry it had to end like this. I just want to say thank you for watching the match.” she said quietly during her acceptance speech. Osaka pulled her visor over her face, and sobbed. Serena lost a point and a game, but Osaka lost the joy of winning a Grand Slam.
Viewers of the match had many different opinions on Serena’s attitude during the match. Some say that it was unfair of Ramos to give Serena so many code violations. Others believe that Serena dragged the problem out for way too long and caused the drama herself. Was she being unprofessional or did she say what needed to be said? No matter the views on Serena, everyone can agree that young Osaka did not deserve to have the pride of her victory ripped away from her. However, dramatic or not, Serena had successfully shed light on the issue of sexism on the court. “I’m here fighting for women’s rights and for women’s equality and for all kinds of stuff.” Serena said in a post match conference. “Maybe it didn’t work out for me, but it’s going to work out for the next person.”
Later, Osaka spoke in the conference and was finally able to express her happiness on the win. She also admitted to still looking up to her childhood idol, even after all the commotion. “I’m always going to remember the Serena that I love. It doesn’t change anything for me. She was really nice to me at the net and on the podium. I don’t really see what would change.” Osaka said. But unfortunately, the 2018 Women’s U.S. Open Final won’t be remembered as Osaka’s victory, but as two players that contributed to the issue of sexism on the court.