FLUSHING MEADOW – Serena Williams’ hopes to win a record-tying 24th Grand Slam title took an unprecedented turn on Saturday, when the six-time U.S. Open champion was assessed both point and game penalties as Naomi Osaka posted a 6-2, 6-4 victory in a controversial Open final in New York.
Naomi Osaka with Serena Williams (r)
The No. 20 seed Osaka, 20, became the first Japanese man or woman to win a Grand Slam event by dispatching Williams in 79 minutes on the strength of a clean ground game that included 16 winners against only 14 unforced errors for the match.
But the win was draped in controversy as Williams was given conduct penalties on three separate occasions by chair umpire Carlos Ramos, whom she accused of being sexist after the match.
Osaka dominated the first set, but Williams seemed close to turning the match’s momentum early in the second when she was assessed her first conduct violation for receiving coaching, which she politely disputed in a conversation with Ramos in which Williams told the umpire, “I don’t cheat to win. I’d rather lose.”
After breaking Osaka for a 3-1 lead, Williams was hurt by a pair of double faults in the fifth game to help Osaka get back on serve. After Williams struck a forehand into the net to make it 3-2, she slammed her racquet to the ground, and Ramos assessed a second conduct violation, resulting in Williams losing a point to start the next game.
As Osaka took her spot to serve, Williams approached Ramos and engaged in a heated argument over the first violation about improper coaching, which the American vehemently denied. As the disagreement escalated, Williams shouted, “You owe me an apology. I have never cheated in my life!”
Clearly unnerved from the situation, Williams quickly dropped the game to tie the set 3-3, even as Williams, playing in her 31st major final, gestured to settle down the crowd — much of which who was loudly booing Ramos.
After Williams squandered a lead in the seventh game and Osaka broke to go up 4-3, the on-court fireworks began.
During the changeover, Williams began complaining again to Ramos, and as her tone grew heated, she told him, “You stole a point from me. You’re a thief, too.” Ramos then assessed a full game penalty, putting her one game from defeat and causing a tear-filled delay of nearly five minutes as Williams complained both to Ramos and other tournament officials.
Seemingly resistant to take the ball to serve again, Williams stormed to cut the deficit to 5-4 as the fans again exploded in cheers in attempts to help her rebound. But Osaka maintained her focus amid the unique circumstances, blasting an ace on championship point for her historic win.
Williams immediately approached Osaka for a hug and congratulations, but after Osaka shook hands with Ramos afterward, Williams refused. Instead, Williams pointed to Ramos and said, “You owe me an apology.”
The Williams-Ramos dispute hung over the postmatch ceremony, with the crowd loudly booing and both players still openly emotional. Tears streamed down Osaka’s face as she tugged her visor over her eyes, and Williams hugged her and tried to cheer her up before the runner-up was interviewed.
“I don’t want to be rude but I don’t want to do questions,” Williams said. “I just want to tell you guys: She played well, and this is her first Grand Slam.
“And I know you guys were here rooting, and I was rooting too, but let’s make this the best moment we can and we’ll get through it. But let’s give everyone the credit where credit is due — and let’s not boo anymore. We’re going to get through this and let’s be positive.
“Congratulations Naomi. No more booing.”
When it became Osaka’s turn for questions, she instead appeared apologetic.
“I know that everyone was cheering for her, and I’m sorry that it had to end like this. I just want to say thank you for watching the match. Thank you,” said Osaka. “It was always my dream to play Serena in the U.S. Open finals so I’m really glad that I was able to do that.”
Later when addressing the media, Williams admitted, “I felt at one point bad because I’m crying and she’s crying. You know, she just won. I’m not sure if they were happy tears or they were just sad tears because of the moment.
“I felt like, ‘Wow, this isn’t how I felt when I won my first Grand Slam. I definitely don’t want her to feel like that.’ Maybe it was the mom in me that was like, ‘Listen, we got to pull ourselves together here.'”
When asked if she would change anything from the match, Williams said, “I can’t sit here and say I wouldn’t say he’s a thief, because I thought he took a game from me.
“I’ve seen other men call other umpires several things. I’m here fighting for women’s rights and for women’s equality and for all kinds of stuff,” she said. “For me to say ‘thief’ and for him to take a game, it made me feel like it was a sexist remark. He’s never taken a game from a man because they said ‘thief’.”
Shortly after the match ended, Williams’ coach, Patrick Mouratoglou, admitted to ESPN’s Pam Shriver that while he was coaching, he thought the code violation was unwarranted — in addition to the penalty for Williams smashing her racquet.
“I’m honest, I was coaching,” Mouratoglou said. “I mean, I don’t think she looked at me, so that’s why she didn’t even think I was. But I was, like 100 percent of the coaches in 100 percent of the matches. So we have to stop this hypocrite thing.”
When asked if he had ever been called for a coaching penalty before, he said, “Not once in my life, to be honest. And you can check the records, you’ll see.”
The WTA released the following statement after the match:
“There are matters that need to be looked into that took place during the match. For tonight, it is time to celebrate these two amazing players, both of whom have great integrity.”
–Field Level Media