EDWIN MARTINEZ/CC BY 2.0
Serena Williams ended up losing a very controversial US Open Final.
Heading into its final weekend, the U.S. Open had been spectacular. Despite the sweltering heat that persisted throughout the tournament, tennis’ elite players had provided fans with a number of spectacular matches and captivating storylines.
On the women’s side, the final ultimately came down to a matchup between America’s Serena Williams and Japan’s Naomi Osaka.
The matchup was unforeseen but certainly brought with it significant intrigue. The return of Serena to her first U.S. Open final since 2014 was welcome.
Already the most accomplished women’s tennis player of all time, she looked to continue her quest to reassert her dominance in the sport, following the birth of her first child.
The rapid rise of the relatively unknown Osaka added even greater meaning to the match, as the 20 year old would have the opportunity to face her childhood idol on the sport’s biggest stage.
This final showed great promise, and for the first set, it lived up to expectations. However, the match will go down as one of the most infamous in tennis history, due to the widely discussed controversy that ensued.
Everyone has seen the events that marred the second set of this match, which ultimately concluded with Osaka capturing her first career Grand Slam.
Serena was given her first code violation by chair umpire Carlos Ramos for receiving coaching from Patrick Mouratoglou, her second for smashing her racket in frustration, which cost her a point, and her third for her verbal dispute with Ramos, for which she was given a game penalty.
Now several days removed from the fiasco, I have come away with several key takeaways:
1. What was Ramos thinking?
You can’t help but think that Ramos was out to make a point and to make an example out of Serena on the biggest stage. But why?
First of all, whether or not Serena was being coached is not really relevant. The rules may say that a player cannot receive coaching during a match, but when has that ever been enforced? As Mouratoglou said, “Everybody does it — you all know it.” Why Ramos chose this moment to disrupt such an important match to call this specific violation is anybody’s best guess.
As for the violation for which Ramos took an entire game away from Serena, he needs to have thicker skin and remember the circumstances. Serena has given everything she has to this sport her entire life and has become a legend due to her ultra competitiveness. Moreover, this isn’t some insignificant match: It’s the U.S. Open final!
When a fierce competitor is in the heat of the moment in a championship contest, you can’t become hypersensitive to his or her emotions. And penalizing someone for saying the word “thief”? Come on.
The two players had worked too hard to reach this match to see an official overstep his boundaries by opting to literally alter the score. Ramos should have exercised restraint before taking an action that will put a permanent asterisk next to this match in the history books.
2. Serena did not exactly help her own cause.
I’ve already made it clear that I think Ramos’ actions were over the line. But if you’re Serena, you need to be aware of his irregular sensitivity and realize that no good will come from continuing to egg him on. I am not saying that Serena should not stand up for what she believes in.
However, the racket smash is a violation that will be called every time and she should know better than to exhibit her frustration in such a manner in a high-stakes situation.
If Serena had exercised restraint after the first violation, which was merely a warning and did not cost her anything in the way of points or games, she would have prevented the escalation that ultimately ensued at the climax of the match.
3. Osaka is the biggest loser.
There is incredible parity in women’s tennis. Case in point: Eight different women have won the last eight Grand Slams. However, while this parity creates a great deal of intrigue and excitement, it also means that this may very well have been Osaka’s lone moment to stand atop the tennis world. And if it is, it will always be remembered for controversy and for what Serena did, rather than for Osaka’s tremendous championship performance.
Following the match, Osaka was visibly overwhelmed in a moment that should have been a celebration and a dream come true. Serena tried to remedy the situation during the awards ceremony, amid a chorus of boos.
But the damage had already been done, and Osaka’s moment in the spotlight had been forever tarnished.
I can only hope that she will once again hoist a Grand Slam trophy and this time garner the attention and admiration that she so rightfully deserves.