Naomi Osaka beat Serena Williams on Saturday, 6–2, 6–4, to win the U.S. Open women’s singles final. It was the first Grand Slam win for the 20-year-old Osaka, who was born in Japan and represents the nation on the court. She was facing her idol in Williams, but the match went off the rails before it could be declared a coronation for Osaka. In the end, both players ended up in tears.
Early in the second set, chair umpire Carlos Ramos issued Williams a warning for what he judged to be illegal coaching from the stands by her coach Patrick Mouratoglou.
Williams vehemently denied the charge and pleaded with Ramos, saying, “I don’t cheat to win. I’d rather lose.”
The moment seemed to ignite Williams, who went on to take a 3–1 advantage in the second set. Back-to-back double faults in the fifth game killed her momentum, however, and Williams smashed her racket in frustration after losing the game. Ramos issued a code violation and point penalty against Williams, and boos filled Arthur Ashe Stadium.
Later in the set, during a changeover, Williams vented once again at Ramos.
“You owe me an apology,” she said, standing before the chair. “I have never cheated in my life. I have a daughter and I stand for what’s right for her. I’ve never cheated, and you owe me an apology … 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. … And you stole a point from me. You’re a thief, too!” Ramos responded by issuing yet another code violation, her third, which resulted in a game penalty, putting Osaka up 5–3 in the final set and within one game of winning the match.
Williams then demanded to see tournament referee Brian Earley on the court. When he arrived, she pleaded her case to no avail. Despite the immense emotion, Williams managed to serve out and win that game. There would be no incredible comeback, however, and Osaka managed to hold her serve and win the title.
The astonishing scenes during the second set really shouldn’t overshadow Osaka’s play. Before tensions boiled over, she and Williams had engaged in thrilling rallies. The match promised to be tennis’ best-ever vs. its future and, at times, it delivered.
Osaka deserved to win her first Grand Slam under better circumstances. Instead, she looked stricken during the trophy ceremony as her opponent asked the crowd not to boo.
For what it’s worth, Mouratoglou admitted after match that he was giving Williams signals from the stands, although she claimed in her post-match press conference that she never saw them and had done nothing wrong.
The extent to which Ramos or Williams were at fault will be dissected for months (though, probably years), but nothing either party did would have likely affected the end result.
“I know that everybody was cheering for her,” Osaka said at the trophy ceremony. “I’m sorry it had to end like this. I just want to say thank you for watching the match.”