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US Open | Osaka wins first major as Serena implodes

US Open | Osaka wins first major as Serena implodes

The 2018 US Open women’s final will be remembered for all the wrong reasons for, although history was indeed made with Naomi Osaka winning her first Grand Slam, it was Serena Williams, denied her 24th major title, who imploded.

Osaka played brilliantly, and there was upset of more than one kind on Arthur Ashe Stadium where the finalists were playing under the lights with the roof closed.

Ashe is noisy at the best of times and, at its worst, is deafening, with the crowd booing and gesticulating as their heroine ranted, raged and lost.

For those in the stadium, there was pure pandemonium, but for viewers of the live stream, it was more than clear that Patrick Mouratoglou was coaching from the player box and that is against the rules.

She really wanted to have the 24th Grand Slam, right? Everyone knows this. It's on the commercials, it's everywhere. When I step onto the court, I feel like a different person, right? I'm not a Serena fan. I'm just a tennis player playing another tennis player. But then when I hugged her at the net, I felt like a little kid again. Naomi Osaka

Later Mouratoglou admitted to coaching Serena in an interview with ESPN, but accused umpire Carlos Ramos of singling out Williams: “Everybody does it — you all know it,” he said.

Williams’s tearful outbursts against the umpire, who warned and penalised her for three code violations, coaching, racket abuse and verbal abuse, overshadowed the Japanese victory.

It began routinely enough, although Osaka got a 2-1 lead after Williams double-faulted on break point.

The young Japanese kept her hold and broke again to lead 4-1, silencing the already boisterous crowd, and moving on to take the first set, 6-2.


Trouble began during the second, when Ramos warned Williams for receiving coaching from her box, which enraged the American, who vigorously denied the charge.

“I don’t cheat to win,” she said. “I’d rather lose.”

It fired Williams up, 2-1 on the changeover, who broke Osaka for a 3-1 lead.

The 20-year-old, however, broke back as Williams double-faulted twice and netted a backhand, prompting her to smash her racket on the court, inviting a second code violation that resulted in a point penalty, for racket abuse.

Williams exploded: “I didn’t get coaching. I haven’t cheated in my life. I stand for what’s right,” Williams fumed at the umpire as they headed into the sixth game. “You owe me an apology,” she ranted.

A point penalty meant Osaka started the next game 15-0 up, and she did not waver in holding serve, then broke Williams again for a 4-3 lead.

On the changeover Williams continued her verbal assault on Ramos, tearfully accusing him of being a ‘thief’ for ‘stealing a point’ and angrily demanding an apology from him.

“You’re attacking my character,” she said.

“You will never, ever be on another court of mine. You are the liar,” she fumed, and Ramos handed her a third violation, a game penalty, for verbal abuse.

Osaka’s score now stood at 5-3, up from 4-3, keeping her just one game away from an extraordinary victory for so many reasons.

Williams won the next game, even as she remained tearful, arguing with the referee and WTA supervisor.

Osaka, displaying remarkable poise throughout the match, held her serve and gifted Japan its first Grand Slam singles title.

She denied Williams her first major title since she became a mother last year, and her 24th Grand Slam to equal Margaret Court’s all-time record.

The capacity stadium erupted into booing, as Osaka wept into a towel, an outpouring of emotion ranging, no doubt, from seeing her idol so distressed to the reality that she had, in fact, won her first major.

To her credit, Serena was pure class as she hugged Osaka at the net and congratulated her with a smile.

During the truncated trophy ceremony, both were in tears and the umpire was, significantly, not invited up onto the dais.

MC Tom Rinaldi struggled with the on-court interview as both refused to answer questions but Williams again showed her class by comforting Osaka and asking the crowd to stop booing.

“She played well,” she said, and added after a brief pause to compose herself: “This is her first Grand Slam. Let’s make this the best moment we can.”

An overwhelmed Osaka seemed to be at a total loss, deferring questions and apologising to the crowd.

“I know everyone was cheering for her and I’m sorry it had to end like this,” she said.

“It was always my dream to play Serena in the US Open finals.

“I’m really grateful I was able to play with you, thank you,” Osaka added with a small bow, turning to Williams.

It is just that kind of poise, that kind of grace, that will only bring more cheers her way as she continues to climb up the WTA rankings. After this showing, Osaka will enter the Top 10 for the first time, at No 7.

Speaking about the match later, and with a smile finally gracing her face, Osaka said: “It doesn’t really feel that real right now. Maybe in a few days I’ll realise what I’ve done.

“When I turned around it was 5-3 so I was a little bit confused then,” she said of the game she was so suddenly awarded.

“I felt like I had to focus. She’s such a great champion so I know she can come back from any point.”

It was Osaka’s second career title, having won her first at Indian Wells in March.

The US Open has since made a statement on women’s final: “On the fifth point in the second game of the second set between Naomi Osaka and Serena Williams, the chair umpire witnessed coaching taking place from Williams’ coach. Even though her coach has admitted to coaching, Williams has made it clear that she did not receive any coaching. Nevertheless, in accordance with the rules, Williams was assessed a Code Violation, resulting in a warning.

“At the completion of the fifth game of the second set, Williams was assessed a second code violation for racket abuse, which required a point penalty.

“At the changeover, at 4-3, Williams was assessed a third code violation for verbal abuse in the judgment of the umpire, which then required a game penalty.

“The chair umpire’s decision was final and not reviewable by the Tournament Referee or the Grand Slam Supervisor, who were called to the court at that time.”

Speaking at her post match press conference, Williams said: “I think, yeah, that’s hard for me. You know, I think it’s just instantly, just like, ‘Oh, gosh, I don’t want to go back to 2004’.”

That was when she lost her quarter-final match to Jennifer Capriati and was upset by several line calls resulted in the removal of umpire Mariana Alves from officiating. The incident paved the way for using video replays in the sport.

“Forget 2009, you know. It started way back then,” she continued, referring to the $82,500 fine and being put on two years’ probation for an expletive-laced outburst at a line judge during her semi-final against Kim Clijsters.

“So it’s always something. But that’s also kind of, like, this game mentally that you have to play with. You know, sometimes it might seem like things always happen, but I don’t know the word I’m looking for.

“You just kind of have to try to realise that it’s a coincidence. Maybe it’s a coincidence, so…”


During her 2011 final when she lost to Sam Stosur, Williams was issued a code violation for arguing with the umpire, Eva Asderaki and fined $2,000.

That Osaka deserved her win is certain, as the No 20 seed had dominated her opposition.

Her run to the 2018 title included 6-0 6-0 and 6-1 6-1 demolitions of Aliaksandra Sasnovich and Lesia Tsurenko respectively, and a redemptive 6-2 6-4 triumph over Keys in the semis, avenging her crushing loss to the American on the very same court in 2016.

Her only real challenge came from another talented 20-year old who could so easily have been making history herself, Aryna Sabalenka, to whom she dropped a set in round four.

Entering the final, she had dropped just 28 games through six matches and becomes the youngest woman to reach the US Open final since Caroline Wozniacki in 2009.

In lifting the trophy, she became the youngest tournament titlist since Maria Sharapova in 2006.

“She really wanted to have the 24th Grand Slam, right? Everyone knows this. It’s on the commercials, it’s everywhere,” said Osaka, who as a third-grader wrote a paper on Serena.

“When I step onto the court, I feel like a different person, right? I’m not a Serena fan. I’m just a tennis player playing another tennis player. But then when I hugged her at the net, I felt like a little kid again.”

A little kid who dreamed of beating Serena Williams on Arthur Ashe Stadium in the US Open final that has now come true.

 




About The Author

Barbara Wancke

Barbara Wancke is a Tennis Threads Tennis Correspondent who has been involved in the sport for over 40 years, not only as a former player, umpire and coach but primarily as an administrator and tennis writer contributing over the years to Lawn Tennis, Tennis World, and Tennis Today. She has worked with the Dunlop Sports Co, IMG and at the ITF as Director of Women’s Tennis, responsible, amongst other things, for the running of the Federation Cup (now Fed Cup), and acting as Technical Director for tennis at the Seoul Olympics (1988). She subsequently set up her own tennis consultancy Tennis Interlink and was elected to the Board of the TIA UK where she became the Executive Administrator and Executive Vice President until she stood down in July 2014 and is currently an Honorary Vice President.

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