Saturday’s US Open women’s singles final wasn’t supposed to end the way it did, with both players in tears as Serena Williams accepted the runner-up prize and Japan’s Naomi Osaka lifting the trophy.
Osaka was stellar throughout the match, playing more like a seasoned veteran rather than a 20-year-old appearing in her first major final and facing the player she grew up idolizing to boot. Her 6-2, 6-4 victory was not only her first major title, but also the first Grand Slam title for a player from Japan, male or female.
Yet the crowd was still booing as both players took the stage for the awards ceremony, their dissatisfaction still loud following a series of violations that cost Williams first a point and then a game in the second set.
Williams opted not to delve into the controversy when asked of her on stage, instead imploring the crowd to give Osaka her due.
“I don’t want to be rude but I don’t want to interrupt and I don’t want to do questions, I just want to tell you guys she played well and this is her first Grand Slam,” the four-time Olympic gold medalist said, pausing for the crowd to cheer as tears welled in her eyes. “I know you guys were here rooting and I was rooting, too, but let’s make this the best moment we can. We’ll get through this but let’s give everyone credit where credit’s due and not boo anymore. … Congratulations, Naomi. No more booing.”
Williams was hoping to win her record-tying 24th Grand Slam title and first since becoming a mother almost a year ago to the day.
When it came her time to speak, Osaka was also in tears and deferred from answering the question asked of her, instead saying, “I know that everyone was cheering for her and I’m sorry it had to end like this. I just want to say thank you for watching the match.”
Osaka needed only 34 minutes to win the first set, with a number of unforced errors and double faults hurting Williams.
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The six-time US Open champion appeared to be finding her groove in the second set, however, when things went downhill with chair umpire Carlos Ramos.
In the second game of the second set, Ramos signaled a coaching violation, which prompted Williams to approach the chair and tell him that wasn’t the case.
“I understand why you may have thought that was coaching, but I’m telling you it’s not,” she told him. “I don’t cheat to win; I’d rather lose. I’m just letting you know.”
A replay showed Patrick Mouratoglou signaling Williams to go to the net, which Williams said she read as a thumbs up.
Osaka held in that game to make it 1-1, and Williams took a 2-1 lead in the next game following a long rally.
The fourth game was perhaps the hardest fought of the match. Williams had one break point only to have Osaka take it after the longest rally of the match. On Williams’ second break point Osaka hit a return long and Williams took a 3-1 lead.
When Williams hit into the net to lose her service game and watched her lead dwindle to 3-2, however, she slammed her racket into the ground and bent the frame in frustration for another violation. That, coupled with the earlier violation, cost her a point penalty to start the sixth game at a love-15 disadvantage.
The third code violation came after the seventh game, with the score 4-3 in Osaka’s favor, when Williams called Ramos “a thief” for stealing a point from her. Per the rules, that resulted in a loss of a game, which brought Osaka one away from her historic US Open title.
It also riled Williams and the crowd at Arthur Ashe Stadium.
Williams called for referee Brian Earley, repeatedly saying that it wasn’t fair and that men had said much worse without repercussion, but to no avail.
Television commentator Chris Evert, an 18-time singles Grand Slam champion herself, said of the three penalties, “This has never ever happened in tennis before. I’ve never seen anything like this.”
Williams would win the next game before Osaka secured her victory.
Karen Price is a reporter from Pittsburgh who has covered Olympic sports for various publications. She is a freelance contributor to TeamUSA.org on behalf of Red Line Editorial, Inc.