Serena lose to Naomi Osaka: How the U.S. Open ended in chaos
It all began with the slightest of hand gestures by a coach in Serena Williams’s box and ended in chaos, recrimination and, oh, yes, Naomi Osaka’s remarkable upset victory.
Here’s a breakdown of what happened in the women’s final of the 2018 United States Open:
A Dream Matchup
Osaka, a shy, 20-year-old who was born in Japan but moved to the United States at age 3, grew up admiring and emulating Williams. She even did a report on her in third grade that she was very proud of.
She admitted before the tournament began that it had long been her dream to play Williams in a Grand Slam final, and that dream came true. But surely her dream did not play out like this, in a swirl of controversy and accusations of sexism against the chair umpire, and an awkward postmatch celebration that no one seemed to enjoy.
The setup for the entire controversy occurred in the first set in which Osaka, despite being 16 years younger and playing in her first Grand Slam final, was outplaying the 23-time Grand Slam singles champion by a wide margin.
Williams played her first professional tournament two years before Osaka was born. She was expected to impose her experience, power and will on her opponent. Then Osaka served better, made fewer mistakes and ran down most of the shots that Williams made, frustrating the six-time Open champion to win the first set, 6-2.
Then came the second set.
SECOND SET: OSAKA SERVING AT 0-1, 40-15
A Code Violation for Coaching
Carlos Ramos, the notoriously strict chair umpire, interjected himself into the match for the first time, calling a code violation for coaching, which is essentially a formal warning. Ramos spotted Patrick Mouratoglou, sitting in the Williams box, making what he interpreted as a coaching hand gesture (he had his hands about six inches apart moving in a forward motion that Ramos interpreted as an indication of how he wanted Williams to move). Mouratoglou later admitted he was doing it, adding that all coaches did it.
— Ashish TV Slams (@ashishtvslams) September 8, 2018
Ramos’s application of the rule was accurate; however, some thought he could have shown a bit more lenience. For example, he might have issued an informal warning to Williams to tell her coach to knock it off.
Williams approached the chair and said to Ramos: “One thing I’ve never done is cheat, ever. If he gives me a thumbs up he’s telling me to, ‘Come on.’”
— Kyle Griffin (@kylegriffin1) September 8, 2018
She added in a stern tone: “I don’t cheat to win, I’d rather lose. I’m just letting you know.” Then she returned to business, but Osaka held her serve. SECOND SET: 2-1 CHANGEOVER A Civil Conversation During the next changeover, Williams and Ramos had a civil conversation. Calling him, “umpire,” Williams explained to Ramos that she understood why he may have thought Mouratoglou was coaching, but she stressed that she never did that. Williams, with more championships than any other player in the Open era, has often said she dislikes in-match coaching, even the legal variety on the WTA Tour, and it would be in her interest to do so. She has more experience and more understanding of the game than virtually all of her opponents. Coaching would only level the playing field. Williams calmly said again that she did not cheat, and Ramos said, “I know that.” It was the final moment of calm, and Williams said, “O.K., thank you so much.” It was a key moment because Williams may have thought that she had persuaded Ramos to reverse the call on the code violation, which virtually never happens.
2ND SET: WILLIAMS SERVING AT 3-1, 30-40 A Broken Racket and Point Penalty Williams had gained the upper hand in the second set by breaking Osaka’s serve, and it could have been a turning point for the entire match. Instead, Williams hit a backhand into the net for an unforced error, allowing Osaka to break right back and retake control. Osaka exclaimed, “Come on,” to emphasize the point. Williams’s fired her racket onto the court and destroyed it. Sascha Bajin, Williams’s former hitting partner and now Osaka’s coach, saw the angry display and pointed to the court, saying, “Hey.”
— FanSportsClips (@FanSportsClips) September 8, 2018
Throwing a racket is an automatic code violation, and because it was the second violation, Osaka gained a point for the next game. Ramos announced the score and then said, “Code violation, racket abuse, point penalty, Mrs. Williams.”
Williams did not appear to react as she sat in her chair.
2ND SET: OSAKA SERVING AT 2-3
‘You Owe Me an Apology’
Williams walked onto the court on the deuce side, apparently expecting the score to be 0-0. When she was told to move over to the ad court because it was 0-15, Williams approached the chair again, initially confused by the score. “This is unbelievable, every time I play here I have problems,” Williams said to Ramos.
This appeared to be a reference to her 2004 Open match against Jennifer Capriati, in which several bad calls went against Williams, and the 2009 semifinal against Kim Clijsters, when Williams was called for a foot fault at a critical juncture and threatened to shove a ball down the lineswoman’s throat.
When Ramos explained that Williams had a point penalty for smashing her racket, she calmly said, “Yeah, that’s a warning.”
She continued to argue that she did not get coaching and implored Ramos to make an announcement to the crowd explaining just that. Then Williams’s frustration level increased and she grew angry, repeatedly saying that she did not get coaching.
As the discussion became more heated, the audience, heavily in Williams’s favor, began to boo, and then cheered Williams as she became even more demonstrative.
“You only me an apology. I have never cheated in my life. I have a daughter and I stand for what’s right!” – Serena to Carlos Ramos after receiving the point penalty #usopen pic.twitter.com/g34xn851JR
— Andrew Jerell Jones (@sluggahjells) September 8, 2018
“You owe me an apology,” she said to Ramos, loudly emphasizing certain words. “I have never cheated in my life. I have a daughter and I stand for what’s right for her and I have never cheated. You owe me an apology.” She concluded by telling Ramos that he would never umpire one of her matches again. When the match resumed, Osaka was unfazed and held her serve to draw even, 3-3.
SECOND SET: CHANGEOVER WITH OSAKA LEADING, 4-3 ‘You’re a Thief’ Osaka broke Williams’s serve again, this time with an impressive down-the-line forehand with Williams at net. Williams then continued her argument with Ramos during the changeover, sounding like an unrelenting baseball manager going after a home plate umpire. First, she said that she had already explained to Ramos that she never got coaching. “For you to attack my character, then something is wrong,” Williams said. “It’s wrong. You are attacking my character.” It was difficult to hear Ramos’s response, but he apparently disputed Williams’s claim, because Williams replied: “Yes you are. You will never, ever, ever be on another court of mine as long as you live.” Then she pointed at him and said: “You are the liar. When are you going to give me my apology. You owe me an apology. Say it! Say you’re sorry.”
— FanSportsClips (@FanSportsClips) September 8, 2018
When Ramos indicated he would not apologize, Williams cut off the discussion and said, “Well, then don’t talk to me.”
But Williams resumed, adding, “How dare you insinuate that I was cheating.”
As Williams got up to return to the court, she exclaimed to Ramos, “And you stole a point from me, you’re a thief, too.”
After that, Ramos issued the third code violation, which resulted in a penalty of a lost game. The rules state the first violation is a warning, then loss of point, loss of game and finally loss of match. It never got to that, but it was close.
Ramos announced to the crowd, “Code violation, verbal abuse. Game penalty, Mrs. Williams,” as Williams returned to the court. The crowd, somewhat uncertain of what exactly was going on, began to buzz in agitation.
2ND SET: OSAKA SERVING AT 4-3 … MAKE THAT WILLIAMS SERVING AT 3-5
Ramos Explains the Penalty
Williams walked back to the court and prepared to receive Osaka’s serve, apparently unaware that she had forfeited the game and it was now her serve, trailing 3-5. It was a wild situation to happen in a Grand Slam final, and debate raged over whether Ramos was too hasty by issuing the third code violation, but it was within the rules.
Ramos called the players over to the chair. First, he explained the situation to Osaka, and then to Williams, who was incredulous.
“Are you kidding me, because I called you a thief?” she said. “But you stole a point from me.”
Osaka stood close to the chair for a moment, signaled something to her box, and then turned and walked back to the baseline, where she tried to stay focused by bouncing up and down in the middle of the court, mostly facing away from the dispute.
Williams repeated her argument that she was not a cheater and then said, “Excuse me, I need the referee.”
Appeal to the Tournament Officials
Brian Earley, the longtime tournament referee and Donna Kelso, the Grand Slam supervisor, entered from the player’s entrance at the corner of the court, and Williams made the first accusation of bias for being a woman.
While Williams appealed to Kelso, who is also a WTA supervisor, Earley climbed up to the chair to confer with Ramos and was heard to say, as if repeating, “For calling you a thief.”
Then the discussion was among Williams, Earley and Kelso for nearly three minutes while Osaka waited.
Williams repeated over and over that it was unfair. “This has happened to me too many times,” she said. “To lose a game for saying that? It’s not fair. I mean, it’s really not.”
That was when Williams introduced the issue of bias.
“Do you know how many other men do things that are — that do much worse than that?” she said to Kelso. “This is not fair. There’s a lot of men out here that have said a lot of things, but if they’re men, that doesn’t happen to them.”
The fans, most of whom could not hear the discussion, grew more agitated, with whistling and booing mixing with jeers and invective.
Williams added to Earley and Kelso, “Because I’m a woman, he’s going to take this away from me?”
Then, suddenly, her tone softened.
“I know you know it,” she said to Earley. “I know you can’t admit it, but it’s not right. I know you can’t change it, but I’m saying, it’s not right. I get the rules, but I’m just saying it’s not right.
Then, just before returning to the court she said: “It’s not fair. That’s all I have to say.”
Williams and Osaka embraced at the net after the match.CreditBen Solomon for The New York Times
Osaka Beats Her Idol
If the raging dispute distracted Osaka in any way, she did not show it. Leading by 5-4, 40-30, she drilled a serve out wide at 114 miles per hour. Williams tipped it with her racket, but the ball only deflected wide. Incredibly, Osaka was a first-time Grand Slam champion at 20, and the first ever from Japan, man or woman.
During what was the greatest moment of her career — if not her life — Osaka heard booing from a still-angry crowd. Osaka gave the slightest exclamation with her fist, pulled her visor down over her face and walked to the net.
Williams met her with a smile and gave her a hug — a notable difference from the formal handshake at the net five months ago in Miami when Osaka beat her idol in their first meeting. Osaka shook Ramos’s hands, but Williams declined, making one more comment about the apology she still expected.
A Muted Celebration
Williams and Osaka stood next to each other on the podium with the former champions Chris Evert and Billie Jean King and the U.S.T.A. president, Katrina Adams, but no one smiled at first. When the M.C. started to speak, the fans unleashed loud boos and Osaka pulled her visor over her face again, and wept.
Seeing that, Williams put her arm around Osaka and said something to ease the tension. When it was her turn to speak to the crowd, she implored the fans to stop booing and to laud Osaka’s achievement.
Osaka’s brief and poignant acceptance speech underscored the overall sadness of what should have been such a happy moment.
“I know that everyone was cheering for her,” she told the crowd, referring to Williams. “I’m sorry it had to end like this. I just want to say thank you for watching the match.”
A Call for Equality and a Calm Reflection
Williams came to her postmatch news conference prepared to discuss the whole matter. One key issue was that Mouratoglou had already admitted to reporters that he was in fact coaching, contrary to her premise throughout the controversy. She said someone briefed her about it before she came in, and she texted her coach for clarification. She did not seem pleased with him.
“I’m trying to figure out why he would say that,” she said. “I don’t understand. I mean, maybe he said, ‘You can do it.’ I was on the far other end, so I’m not sure. I want to clarify, myself, what he’s talking about.”
In her final statement, after a question about what she might have changed if she could go back, Williams again invoked the sexism that she referred to on court.
“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’. Then she added: “The fact that I have to go through this is just an example for the next person that has emotions, and that want to express themselves, and want to be a strong woman. They’re going to be allowed to do that because of today. Maybe it didn’t work out for me, but it’s going to work out for the next person.”
— FanSportsClips (@FanSportsClips) September 8, 2018
Osaka came in afterward and finally had a chance to express happier feelings about the win, her parents, her coach, and how she will be received in Japan, where she will be welcomed as a hero at a tournament in Tokyo this month.
She said that she really did not know what happened during the dispute, and insisted that she still held the same adoration for Williams, no matter what happened.
“I’m always going to remember the Serena that I love,” she said. “It doesn’t change anything for me. She was really nice to me at the net and on the podium. I don’t really see what would change.”
The only thing that really changed is that now Osaka is a Grand Slam champion, too.