When Naomi Osaka must have dreamt about becoming the first Japanese player to win a Grand Slam, she might have envisaged the ending a little bit differently to what unfolded on the Court last night. With loud boos ringing around the stadium, 20 years old Osaka stood on the podium, visor of her cap down, trying to cover the tears streaming down her face. Her first Grand Slam final, her idol Serena Williams her opponent, a straight sets win, this was the biggest moment of her life till date and yet, she was apologising to the crowd for winning and playing a great match.
It all started with the chair umpire, Carlos Ramos, issuing a code violation to Serena Williams when he spotted her coach making hand gestures. On court coaching is banned in Tennis even though almost everyone does it, as Serena’s coach Patrick Mouratoglou said after the match.
This violation upset Serena as she claimed she wasn’t looking at her coach and she was unfairly blamed for cheating. A double fault to hand back the advantage of a break didn’t help Serena’s mood who smashed her racquet, an automatic code violation that resulted in umpire docking her a point at the start of the next game.
By now, Serena was raging with anger and she kept going at the chair umpire demanding an apology for effectively calling her a cheat over the first violation. She went on to call Ramos a thief for stealing a point from her and at that point, the chair umpire issued another code violation for verbal abuse, that meant the penalty of a game and effectively settling the contest in Osaka’s favour who was now one game away from the title.
We have seen several male players getting away with plenty of verbal abuse towards the officials over the years and Serena’s claim of sexism from officials carries some weight. US Open has already received plenty of criticism for sexist rules after Alize Cornet was penalised for taking off her shirt during a match, something they regretted after the heavy backlash.
However, none of this was Osaka’s fault, not Serena’s coach making gestures, not Serena smashing a racquet, not Serena going at the Chair Umpire, not the Umpire being really strict with Serena, she was just playing the match of her life. On the night, she was the deserving winner despite what was going on at the other end of the court but still, her night ended in tears apologising to the crowd.
USTA President Katrina Adams had perhaps the worst reaction when she came out and said that this wasn’t the result they were hoping for today. Imagine winning a US Open and then the organisers coming out and saying they didn’t want you to win when the crowd is already booing your victory.
Osaka is just 20 and has made huge strides this year, moving into the Top 10 players as she moves to Number 7 after her US Open triumph. There will be several more Grand Slams in her journey and many more triumphs, and hopefully, she will be cheered on the podium during those moments instead of having to apologise for a deserved victory.