Naomi Osaka and Serena Williams competed in the U.S. Open Grand Slam Final at Arthur Ashe Stadium on September 8, 2018. Serena Williams held the highest number of Grand Slam wins with 23, while Osaka was playing for her first win. The high level of skill demonstrated at the court combined with the surprising incidents that occurred with the umpire made this match one of the wildest championships tennis fans have seen to date.
Serena and Osaka battled it out in the first set, but Osaka prevailed and won 6-2. No signs showed, but the heated disputes were soon to come.
After winning the first game of the second set, Serena was down 15-40. The chair umpire, Carlos Ramos, gave her a coaching violation in response to a thumbs-up from her coach. Serena behaved with civility: “If he gives me a thumbs-up he’s telling me to come on. We don’t have any code and I know you don’t know that, and I understand why you may have thought that was coaching, but I’m telling you it’s not. I don’t cheat to win, I’d rather lose. I’m just letting you know.”
When Serena hit a game point into the net, making the score 3-2, she smashed her racquet on the ground and broke it. She received a code violation for racquet abuse and, because she had a previous violation, got a point penalty, which is very rare in a Grand Slam final. At the start of the next game, Osaka was up 15-0.
In response, Serena said that every time she plays there, she has problems. She went for the umpire as he explained her two violations, and she said that her racquet abuse should have been a warning since she did not get coaching. She said he needed to make an announcement that she didn’t get coaching. “I don’t cheat. How can you say that?… You owe me an apology.” Serena became emphatic, pointing at the umpire and saying that she has never cheated in her life and that she stands for what’s right for her daughter. The crowd cheered as Serena yelled at the umpire.
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Keeping her composure, Naomi Osaka hit a great shot past Serena on a game point to lead 4-3. On the changeover, Serena spoke to the umpire again. She told him he was wrongly attacking her character, badgering him. “You will never ever ever be on another court of mine as long as you live. You are the liar. When are you going to give me my apology? You owe me an apology. Say it. Say you’re sorry.” The umpire refused. “Then don’t talk to me.” Serena continued, “How dare you insinuate that I was cheating? And you stole a point from me. You’re a thief, too.”
The umpire then announced, “Code violation, vocal abuse, game penalty.” The crowd booed, Serena laughed, saying “Are you kidding me?” Another argument followed, and Serena said she needed the referee. In tears, she told them, “This is not fair, this has happened to me too many times.” The referee said her slander of the umpire was grounds for the penalty. Serena responded by saying “I know men that do much worse than that… There’s a lot of men out here that have said a lot of things and because they are men, that doesn’t happen to them.” The crowd was in uproar at this, probably because of the long history of sexism in tennis. “Because I’m a woman you’re going to take this away from me? You know it and I know you can’t admit it, but you know it’s not right.” She said it happens to her every single year she plays at the tournament.
As a game was awarded to Osaka to lead 5-3, the commentators said this has never happened in tennis before. According to the commentators, Ramos is one of the top chair umpires in the world by reputation, and he rightfully explained the offenses. The commentators agreed with Serena that men behave worse but said that they usually see it as the first warning, not as the third violation. “A game penalty in a Grand Slam final is unprecedented.”
The crowd erupted with cheers when Osaka slammed a serve that Serena couldn’t return for the match point. Serena told Osaka that she’s proud of her as the two hugged at the net. Osaka earned this win, fighting for every point. She made history for Japanese tennis as the first Japanese tennis player to win a Grand Slam final.
Osaka stood on the platform at the trophy ceremony to accept her first Grand Slam win, and unfortunately did not receive the response she deserved. The crowd booed as Osaka pulled her visor down to hide her tears. The audience gave a round of applause for both competitors. The Chairman of the Board and President of the USTA praised Serena by calling her the “champion of all champions,” overshadowing Naomi Osaka. When Serena had the microphone, she showed her integrity and sportsmanship. She took the opportunity to congratulate Osaka, told the crowd to stop booing, and asked them to make it the best moment possible for Osaka. This was the biggest moment of Osaka’s life, but as she was announced champion, she was clearly distraught. The twenty-year old sounded apologetic for the outcome, when she should have been happy; the trophy was rightfully hers. She shared that her mom sacrificed a lot for her tennis career, and that it was her dream to play Serena in the U.S. Open finals. She deserved better than the treatment she got from the crowd while living out her dream.
She was handed a check for $3.8 million, and finally smiled as she held the cup over her head. Her expression was still sorry, likely because the unfortunate circumstances of the final made her feel that she didn’t earn her win. The stories of their match should have been about Osaka and her historic performance, not about the upset with Serena. The crowd should have let Osaka have her moment.
Though the surprising events can’t be ignored, the incredible tennis played by two strong competitors should be celebrated. Both women should have been supported: Serena for her promise that she doesn’t cheat, and Osaka for her victory and significant achievement for Japanese tennis players. In the future, both athletes should be highly respected; tennis fans will look forward to the next waves to be made in their careers. The two undoubtedly played a match that won’t be forgotten.