Monday, June 17, 2024

SOUL OF THE US OPEN: Naomi Osaka Claims Her First US Open Title Amid Controversy

*Today, Serena Williams lost her most recent bid to win her record-setting 24th Grand Slam at the US Open. It was clear she was up against a formidable opponent in Japan’s Naomi Osaka, but who knew the match would end in the controversial fashion that it did.

Here what went down inside Arthur Ashe Stadium:

Osaka, to be fair, came out asserting herself in the match. She wasn’t at all bothered by the occasion or who she was playing – her idol, the great Serena Williams – and earned the first and only break point in the match. She took it 6-2.

Serena came out in the second and held serve to start, but as Naomi was was on serve to level it, in a rare twist for the former champion, she was called for coaching violation. The chair umpire arguably observed her coach, Patrick Mouratoglou, give her a coaching signal from her player’s box, which Serena immediately refuted.

Serena, furious about the call, then stopped play to let the umpire, Carlos Ramos, know that “she has never cheated in her whole career and she would rather lose than cheat,” she said. “I’m a mother and I am all about integrity.” She has her hand on her hip akin to 2009’s foot fault/death threat controversy, so it wasn’t likely things would end there.

Play went on, but the scar tissue remained. Naomi held to level it, 1-all.

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Serena was no doubt fuming inside and, being a 23-time Grand Slam champion, managed to find a earn a rare break point (Naomi was playing lights out tennis). She took advantage and went up 2-1 and the crowd – who were firmly in her corner – went wild.

The veteran got the break, but that was the beginning of the manifestation of what was brewing inside the tempestuous 36-year-old.

Naomi was composed during the entire match and didn’t at all let up. She immediately got the break back with her powerful returns, which caused Serena to slam her racket into the court. That’s nothing new in the game of tennis.

But things went even more left from there.

The smashing of the racket led to yet another violation and, since she had already received the coaching warning, led to a lost point in the next game. With a little head-start (not to say she needed it), Naomi leveled the set 3-all.

The storm brewing inside Serena then came then to a head. She expressed her feelings about the ordeal to Ramos:

“You owe me an apology. I have never cheated,” she said. “You are a thief for stealing a point from me …”

Those comments led to a third code of conduct violation – which the umpire had discretion over – and he chose to dock her a whole game, allowing Naomi to go up 5-3. The tournament director was called, pleas were made, but the Call stood. The eight ball she was already behind grew exponentially.

Serena, in tears, was able to hold the next game for 4-5, but the emotions were too high for her to even think about focusing on breaking Naomi in the next game, though it was do or die. The first-time-finalist was playing too well, had the trophy in her crosshairs and refused to bow to the controversy.

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Naomi Osaka closed it out, 6-2, 6-4, in conflicted tears for her very first Grand Slam title. She hesitantly went to her box – still in tears – for comfort, as the crowd booed the series of events that led to the win.

Serena described the moment as such: “I’m crying and she’s crying. You know, she just won. I’m not sure if they were happy tears or sad tears because of the moment. That’s not how I felt when I won my first Grand Slam … listen, we have to pull ourselves together.”

Serena then employed her newfound motherly instinct and made an appeal to the crowd: “No more booing. This is her moment and I’m disappointed, but we will get through this.”

It was gracious on her part to not dwell on her grievances and take away from such an exciting moment for Naomi and her camp.

But she let her true feelings be made known in the press room:

“You 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.

But I’ve seen other men call umpires several things. I’m here fighting for women’s rights and 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’ve said ‘thief.’

It blows my mind. But I’m going to continue [tears up] to fight for women and to fight for us to have equal [rights] … this is outrageous.

She then dropped the mic … press conference over.

The US Open’s women’s final ended not with hired fireworks, but with controversial one. Naomi Osaka was left standing as the victor and Serena Williams was left, arguably, the vicTIM.

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