The majority of us don’t know what it feels like to come face-to-face with our idols, compete against them on the biggest stage and then go on to defeat them, making history and realising a lifelong dream in the process.
On Saturday, Naomi Osaka allowed us to peek into her soul and catch a glimpse of what it meant to her to beat Serena Williams in the US Open final 6-2, 6-4, and become Japan’s first-ever player – man or woman – to win a Grand Slam singles title.
In a match overshadowed by controversy due to Williams’ outburst over decisions made by Portuguese umpire Carlos Ramos, the 20-year-old Osaka showed focus and poise beyond her years, but when it was all over, she looked more sad than happy on the podium of one of the biggest tournaments in the world.
The US Open crowd booed as tears kept falling down Osaka’s face. Williams, who was also crying – due to the outrage she felt at Ramos giving her three code violations that resulted in a game penalty – put her arms around Osaka and tried to comfort her.
It was the saddest-looking trophy ceremony we’ve seen in recent history and one would never have guessed that Osaka had just claimed her first Grand Slam trophy by watching it.
“It feels very emotional. I feel happy and sad at the same time and I think this is the most I’ve ever cried,” Osaka told Canada’s TSN channel shortly after.
In her press conference, the Japanese-Haitian sensation, who wrote a report about Williams in the third grade and how much she wanted to be like her, explained how she was feeling at the end of the match.
“Your question is making me emotional,” Osaka told reporters in New York while tearing up.
“Okay, because I know that, like, she really wanted to have the 24th Grand Slam, right? Everyone knows this. It’s on the commercials, it’s everywhere. Like, when I step onto the court, I feel like a different person, right? I’m not a Serena fan. I’m just a tennis player playing another tennis player. But then when I hugged her at the net…” Osaka added before stopping again, overcome by emotion.
“Anyway, when I hugged her at the net, I felt like a little kid again.”
“When I step on the court, I’m not a Serena fan – I’m just a tennis player playing another tennis player. But when I hugged her at the net, I felt like a little kid again.”
— US Open Tennis (@usopen) September 9, 2018
Osaka played lights-out tennis to deny Williams the chance to equal Margaret Court’s all-time record of 24 Grand Slam titles. She became the youngest US Open women’s champion since Maria Sharapova in 2006, and on Monday, will become the new world No. 7, the highest ranking earned by a Japanese woman since Kimiko Date in October 1996.
“It doesn’t really feel that real right now. I think maybe in a few days I’ll realise what I’ve done. Right now it just feels, like, I don’t know. Aside from the fact there’s a lot of press in this room, it feels just like another tournament,” admitted Osaka.
It may take us all a while to digest everything that happened on court on Saturday as once again, Williams found herself caught in controversy, as an outburst directed at Ramos hijacked the second set and finale to the match.
After dropping the opening set to Osaka in 34 minutes, Williams received a coaching code violation from Ramos in the second game of the second set. He spotted her coach Patrick Mouratoglou signalling something to Williams and correctly deemed it against the rules, according to a statement released by the tournament.
Mouratoglou later told Pam Shriver on ESPN that he was indeed coaching Williams.
“Well, I am honest, I was coaching… Sascha [Bajin] was coaching the whole time, too,” said Mouratoglou, referring to Osaka’s coach, who used to be Williams’ hitting partner.
WTA statement on today’s final:
“There are matters that need to be looked into that took place during the match. For tonight, it is time to celebrate these two amazing players, both of whom have great integrity.” pic.twitter.com/Q3s14mixHO
— Reem Abulleil (@ReemAbulleil) September 8, 2018
A furious Williams argued with Ramos and assured him: “I don’t cheat to win, I’d rather lose. I’m just letting you know.”
The following changeover, she continued to explain to the umpire how she never gets any on-court coaching, even during WTA matches, where it’s allowed.
“He alleged that I was cheating, and I wasn’t cheating. Then I had a good conversation with him. I said, ‘Listen, you know my character. You know me really well. Like you know that I don’t even call for on-court coach. I don’t even do that’,” Williams told reporters in her press conference of her conversation with Ramos.
“He’s like, ‘You know what? I understand’. I don’t know if he said, ‘You’re right’. But he understood. He’s, like, ‘Yeah, I get what you’re saying’.
“Then when I sat down, I said it again. I was, like, ‘Just to be clear, I can understand what you saw because it may have looked — just because I look at my box, it may have looked like I was getting coaching, but I’m telling you, that’s not what I do’. I said, I’d rather lose than have to cheat to win. I don’t need to cheat to win. I’ve won enough. That’s never been something I’ve ever done, you know.
“And he was cool. He was like, ‘Oh, I get it’. We had this great exchange. We were on the same page. We understood each other.”
That didn’t mean her code violation was not issued though.
Remember I got called for coaching you one time in Hawaii semi final for saying “ come on be tough “ 😂 so the coaching violation can come at anytime and most players just move on and not talk about having a baby😂 https://t.co/SIHTTRv05A
— Michael Joyce (@mikejoyce73) September 8, 2018
Williams got her first, and only service break of the match soon after, to go ahead 3-1, ending a remarkable streak of 21 consecutive break points saved by Osaka at that time of the tournament.
But Osaka struck right back, breaking for 2-3, which resulted in Williams smashing her racquet. That was a second violation from the 36-year-old, which meant Ramos had to issue a point penalty.
But since Williams didn’t believe she deserved the first code, she launched a tirade on the umpire, demanding an apology from him.
“Every time I play here I have problems… You owe me an apology. I have never cheated in my life,” said Williams, referring to tantrums she’s had with umpires at the US Open in the past, in 2011 and 2014.
Osaka broke serve once more to lead 4-3 with a stunning passing shot after which Williams came at Ramos again.
“You’re attacking my character. You will never, ever, ever be on another court of mine as long as you live. You are a liar. You owe me an apology… Don’t talk to me!” she said, in what appeared to be the end of the discussion.
Instead she continued: “How dare you insinuate that I was cheating? You stole a point from me, you’re a thief too!”
That last line drove Ramos to issue a third code violation, for verbal abuse, which in a tennis match, warrants a game penalty since it was her third strike, and that immediately put Osaka in the position to serve for the championship title.
The Grand Slam Rule Book states the following regarding verbal abuse: “For the purposes of this Rule, verbal abuse is defined as a statement about an official, opponent, sponsor, spectator or other person that implies dishonesty or is derogatory, insulting or otherwise abusive.”
Neither player fully realised what had just happened and Williams was outraged to find out that it was actually her turn to serve again because she had been given a game penalty.
She called the tournament referee Brian Earley – working at his final Grand Slam – but her pleas were futile as he couldn’t overrule Ramos.
“This has happened to me too many times. That is not fair!” said Williams in tears.
She held serve then turned to WTA supervisor Donna Kelso, arguing with her in despair.
Serving for the trophy at 5-4, Osaka remained laser-focused and was as clutch as ever, sealing the victory with a good serve to secure a maiden Slam title.
Her reaction was subdued though as Williams walked over to hug her.
The crowd booed the ever-likeable Osaka during the trophy ceremony before Williams asked them to stop.
“I felt at one point bad because I’m crying and she’s crying. She just won. I’m not sure if they were happy tears or they were just sad tears because of the moment. I felt like, Wow, this isn’t how I felt when I won my first Grand Slam. I was like, Wow, I definitely don’t want her to feel like that,” said the six-time US Open champion later of that moment with Osaka.
“Yeah, maybe it was the mom in me that was like, ‘Listen, we got to pull ourselves together here’.”
Statement from USTA president Katrina Adams:
”What Serena did on the podium today showed a great deal of class and sportsmanship. This was Naomi’s moment, and Serena wanted her to be able to enjoy it. That was a class move from a true champion.” pic.twitter.com/LR6o4K51ec
— Reem Abulleil (@ReemAbulleil) September 9, 2018
Williams insisted that she didn’t receive any coaching from Mouratoglou and was surprised to hear that he admitted he did it.
“We don’t have signals. We have never discussed signals. I don’t even call for on-court coaching,” she said.
Williams isn’t sure whether the umpire’s actions affected the outcome of the match but she described his calls as “sexist”.
“You definitely can’t go back in time. I can’t sit here and say I wouldn’t say he’s a thief, because I thought he took a game from me,” said Williams.
“But I’ve seen other men call other umpires several things. I’m here fighting for women’s rights and for women’s equality and for all kinds of stuff. 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’.
“For me it blows my mind. But I’m going to continue to fight for women and to fight for us to have equal — like [Alize] Cornet should be able to take off her shirt without getting a fine. This is outrageous.
“I just feel like 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.”
Osaka admits she didn’t realise what was going on as she tried to remain focused o her side of the court. Asked if the day’s events affect how she feels about Williams, the young Japanese said: “The thing is, like, I don’t know what happened on the court. So for me, I’m always going to remember the Serena that I love. It doesn’t change anything for me. She was really nice to me, like, at the net and on the podium. I don’t really see what would change.”
When coaches and players come out and threaten the employment of umpires then it falls to the governing bodies to defend those officials just doing their job.
Carlos Ramos was doing his job.
And doing it well in my extremely experienced opinion.
— Richard Ings (@ringsau) September 9, 2018
Emotional first take by me. common sense should’ve prevailed in my opinion. He’s within his power to make that call. I’ve seen an umpire borderline coach a player up,and another dock a game for being called a thief in same tourney. There needs to be some continuity in the future https://t.co/T5oI1M0Cu7
— andyroddick (@andyroddick) September 8, 2018
Novak Djokovic avoided suffering the same fate as Roger Federer as he overcame the never-say-die John Millman to reach the semi-finals.
Two nights after Millman’s tenacity and quality ball-striking caused Federer to wilt in the New York humidity, Djokovic battled to a 6-3 6-4 6-4 victory.
Although the scoreline looks straightforward, the match lasted two hours and 49 minutes, with the first set taking an hour and the second 59 minutes.
Djokovic, who next faces Kei Nishikori in a rematch of the 2014 semi-final, which he lost, said: “I was very tested. Almost three hours, it’s midnight now. Credit to John for putting up a great battle, he’s truly a great fighter. He’s had an amazing tournament.
“First quarter-finals, he won against Roger. To come out after that kind of win and fight for three hours, he deserves a round of applause definitely.
“I was struggling, he was struggling, we were all sweating, changing clothes. Just trying to hang in there, find a way to win a match. It happened a couple of times that you survive on the court then thrive with a win.”
Conditions were not as hot or humid as they had been on Monday or Tuesday but still uncomfortable and Djokovic again looked in distress and asked the doctor for a nasal spray.
That came during an unusual stoppage after four games of the second set when Millman requested to go off court to change his whole kit – organisers clarified later that the break was permitted because the Australian was sweating so much it was making the court dangerous.
Djokovic, grateful for a bit of a breather, sat grinning in his chair with his shirt off, much to the crowd’s amusement.
The Wimbledon champion was not doing much grinning on court, though, as he struggled to extricate himself from the dogfight.
It all began well enough as Millman made a similarly nervous start to the one he had against Federer, when he described himself as a deer in headlights.
Djokovic had points for 5-1 but Millman dug in during a long game, and that seemed to settle the Australian, watched from the front row by Rupert Murdoch.
He could not find a way back into that set but he made Djokovic work very hard for it, and the Serbian’s frustration levels increased during the second set as chances came and went.
Djokovic was 1/13 on break points when Millman double-faulted on a 14th opportunity at 4-4, volleying the ball away with his foot in annoyance at giving his opponent what he had been unable to take for himself.
When Djokovic broke early in the third set, it looked like the end was nigh, but again he could not put Millman away and, knocked out of rhythm by successive time violations, the second of which resulted in him losing a first serve, he was broken back.
But Djokovic composed himself to break again for 5-4 and this time made no mistake, moving through to the semi-finals for the 11th straight time he has competed here.
Rafael Nadal will have to serve better and make sure he capitalises on his opportunities when he takes on Juan Martin del Potro in the US Open semi-finals on Friday, the Spaniard’s coach Carlos Moya asserts.
Nadal came back from a first-set bagel to defeat Dominic Thiem in a fifth-set tiebreak in the wee hours of Wednesday morning in Queens, New York.
The world No. 1 converted just five of 17 break points against a full-blast Thiem. Nadal dropped serve six times and had a 67 per cent success rate on his first-serve points.
Their quarter-final was a gruelling tug of war that lasted nearly five hours and finished at 2:04am.
“It was a great battle. Not the start that we were expecting. He was a bit off balance all the time and had no rhythm at all on Dominic’s serve,” Moya told Sport360.
“Honestly Dominic was playing very well. Rafa didn’t do well but Dominic went for his shots and they all went in. Not much to say about that. The second set was a new story, it was like the match starting for Rafa and he was able to win his games on his serve and he got into the match the way he was supposed to, the way we thought it was going to be from the start. After the second set everything was more open and Rafa played much better than the first set obviously and Dominic still played very well.”
Nadal’s next opponent will not be any easier as the defending champion takes on world No. 3 Del Potro for a fourth time in the last five Slams, and the third major in a row.
It’s a rematch of their semi-final here 12 months ago and Del Potro will be gunning for his first win over Nadal since the Rio 2016 Olympics.
Their Wimbledon quarter-final last July was an incredible marathon that saw both players produce inconceivable tennis in the fifth set.
“It could be another big battle as the Wimbledon match was. Of course, I like to play always with the No. 1 of the world, doesn’t matter the tournament or the conditions or the weather. I just have the chance to play the greatest on this sport, and it’s amazing for me,” said Del Potro, who owns nine victories against world No. 1s throughout his career.
Moya is well aware of the Argentine’s threat and believes his charge will need to step thing up in the semis.
“I think maybe Rafa can serve a bit better. Besides the first set I think the rest of the match has been okay. He had many chances to break Dominic’s serve, in the fifth, even in the fourth set it was deuce in the last game, 6-5 deuce, he missed an easy volley. He had many break points, I don’t know how many he had but he had a lot and usually he has a good percentage of converting break points, so he had chances. That’s not very usual for Rafa [to miss his chances],” said Moya.
“So a few details here and there. But Dominic also played a great match and when he’s on fire like he was today, it’s hard to find a way to hurt him and Rafa was fighting unbelievably, trying to be aggressive when things weren’t easy and it paid off.”
Looking ahead to the Del Potro clash, Moya added: “I think it’s his favourite surface but the last three Slams, Rafa was able to beat him. Very difficult matches obviously but last year they played here and also Rafa found a way to turn things around after the first set that he lost. But it’s going to be a tough battle. Del Potro is playing very well and we know that he’s confident.”