Naomi Osaka won the 2018 U.S. Open Tennis Championships. Fair and square. But controversy has cruelly overshadowed the biggest moment of the 20-year-old Japanese star’s life.
It was the match between two players at the complete opposite ends of their career. Serena Williams, arguably the greatest of all time, and Naomi Osaka, a big hitting youngster who has idolised Serena for as long as she can remember.
Both women earned their coveted place in the final, and it was Osaka who raced off to a dream start by taking the first set convincingly, 6-2. The Japanese woman is familiar with winning big, earlier this year she took out her biggest title – the Indian Wells premier mandatory event in March, a tournament which is just below grand slam level. The U.S. Open grand slam would prove to be her biggest, however the completion of the first game of the second set proved this match would go down in the history books, for all the wrong reasons.
No stranger to controversy, Serena Williams has a long history, including two prior run ins with tennis officials in the semi-finals and finals at this very event.
Perhaps most disappointing is the fallout from the event, which has taken away from Osaka’s fairytale tournament.
This match began with a code violation (warning), after Williams’ coach Patrick Mouratoglou gestured a thumbs up which was portrayed as coaching from the sidelines, according to chair umpire, Carlos Ramos. Mouratoglou later admitted he was coaching, but Williams denies this, as she wasn’t looking at the player’s box.
“I don’t cheat to win, I’d rather lose,” she said.
“I know you don’t know that and I understand why you thought that was coaching, but I’m telling you it’s not.”
Leading 3-2, Williams received a second code violation, for racquet abuse – a clear violation, but this would eventuate into a point penalty, meaning that she would begin the next game down 0-15.
A frustrated Williams, who was down 4-3 at the changeover continued her tirade directed at the umpire. In a volatile scene, she bullishly called Ramos a thief for ‘stealing a point’ before the umpire responded with a third code violation. The third violation meant a game penalty, gifting Osaka the game, a handy set and 5-3 lead.
Understandably furious, this was the moment things became even uglier. Fighting back tears, the modern day great claimed sexism, accusing Ramos of never taking a game away from a male player. The crowd, clearly rooting for Williams, were heard booing through the awards ceremony, startling a visibly upset Osaka, who timidly apologised for winning the match.
Serena has stood firm claiming that this wasn’t about losing but about equality, telling the media she’s seen men on tour call umpires worse and getting away with it.
“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’.”
Social media fell into a frenzy with people divided over the ordeal. A long list of celebrities including fellow American’s, singer Kelly Rowland and rapper Nicki Minaj, and British Formula One driver Lewis Hamilton all voicing their support for the star.
Rowland called the umpire a ‘weak soul’ while Hamilton claimed that this day helped Serena ‘fulfil her purpose’.
“What you stand for is far greater than any game won, you’re an inspiration for the world and inspired by you,” Hamilton wrote on his Instagram.
2018 US Open Male Champion Novak Djokovic weighed into the debate, suggesting that Carlos Ramos had an impact on the result of the match.
“I have my personal opinion that maybe the chair umpire should not have pushed Serena to the limit,” he said.
“Especially in a Grand Slam final… It was, in my opinion, maybe unnecessary.”
Tennis legend Billie Jean King wrote in The Washington Post that Carlos Ramos crossed the line.
“He made himself part of the match, he involved himself in the end result,” she wrote.
“An umpire’s job is to keep control of the match, and he let it get out of control.”
But not everyone is playing ball with this story. Plenty of others are saying Serena acted completely inappropriately and accusing her of taking the spotlight off Naomi Osaka.
Tennis correspondent Stuart Fraser praised Carlos Ramos on Twitter by saying that he is one of the few umpires not afraid to call a rules violation against the top players when it is due.
“It is his colleagues who are letting him down with their inaction, which then leads to situations like this in which players feel they are receiving unfair treatment.” Fraser wrote.
Another tennis journalist, Ben Rothenberg shared the same belief.
“Naomi Osaka’s win today was huge and fully, fully earned,” he wrote.
“Really hope Serena’s tantrums don’t overshadow it. This moment should be hers.”
But, unfortunately Rothenberg’s fears came to life – the moment eventuating into Serena’s – and while the world dissects possibly the most controversial women’s tennis final to date, Naomi Osaka will likely remain disappointed with the fallout, but she’ll be able to rest assured knowing that her inspiring talent will deliver her plenty more tennis success.
The US Open released a statement saying the chair umpire’s decision was final and not reviewable by the Tournament Referee or the Grand Slam Supervisor, who were both called onto the court. After the final, it was announced Serena Williams was fined a total of $17,000 for the three violations.