Serena Williams stormed through the brackets of the US Open. She faced a 20-year-old woman, Naomi Osaka, in the championship match yesterday. It turned into an ugly scene after Williams lost her cool.
Williams made three grievous errors. She illegally took instructions from her coach in the stands. Serena insisted that she doesn’t cheat (her coach later said that he did give her instructions). For this transgression, Williams received a warning from Carlos Ramos, the chair umpire.
Shortly after, Serena smashed her racket on the ground, which is also a violation. Naomi was awarded a penalty point.
Then, while arguing about the previous violations, Serena called the umpire a “thief” for stealing a point from her. Naomi was awarded a game penalty.
While disputing the actions of the official, Serena played the sexist card to no avail, saying that men frequently behave in a similar manner without receiving penalties. Maybe it’s true, but it doesn’t excuse her behavior.
Serena reminded the umpire that she was a mother and would never cheat. The relevance of this is elusive given that she lied about taking instructions, and being a new mother is hardly germane to the circumstances.
The real story that unfolded at Arthur Ashe Stadium was muted by Serena’s terrible and unsportsmanlike behavior. The facts are that (1) Osaka beat Williams soundly (2) Osaka was mature, composed and incredibly gracious during and after Williams’ outbursts (3) Osaka is a very young woman who won her first major tournament, and it seemed to be an afterthought to the thousands of fans in the stadium.
Regarding the last point, I was in attendance and was astonished when the spectators began to boo. Was it because they thought Serena is above the rules and deserved to win regardless of the amazing performance of her adversary? Was it because they didn’t understand what was going on? And why did the crowd boo after Osaka made great shots?
Frankly, the speaker system was abominable. I could not ascertain what the umpire was saying. Apparently Serena had the same problem, especially when she went ballistic after the umpire awarded a game to Osaka.
I suppose Serena thinks she is above the rules based upon her 23 major wins. The officials did not concur to their credit. Serena violated the rules three times. She took instructions from her coach in the stands and lied about it, smashed her racket and argued vociferously with the umpire. She should have been disqualified.
If things were less heated, the umpire might have warned Serena that any further protest or outbursts would result in a game penalty, thereby giving her one last opportunity to get herself under control. But he did not do so. Yet he was certainly within his authority acting the way he did.
What about Osaka? She received $3.8 million and will likely reap endorsements of tens of millions of dollars more from Japanese sponsors. She is now a bona fide superstar in her country. She has been, and will be lauded for her maturity and class during the match. She avoided any and all controversy. And finally she apologized for beating Serena because the fans were rooting for her, and Serena is her idol.
My harshest criticism is towards the spectators. NYers did not comport themselves well. During the match, they made Naomi feel terrible when they booed her great play. It was a great upset and the winner should have had the best day ever. During all the chaos, Naomi either faced the back wall of the court or covered her head with a towel as Serena ranted and raved.
Congratulations Naomi. You were terrific. And you are the only person on Earth who is 2-0 playing against the great Serena Williams.