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Naomi Osaka wins first Grand Slam title but controversy reigns as Serena Williams clashes with officials in the US Open final

Hannah Wilks in WTA Tour 9 Sep 2018
  • Naomi Osaka wins the 2018 US Open title
  • Osaka defeated Serena Williams 2-6, 4-6
  • Osaka's win clouded by code violation and game penalty for Williams
Naomi Osaka with the US Open trophy (Photo by Julian Finney/Getty Images)

Naomi Osaka wins the 2018 US Open but controversy reigns as Serena Williams clashes with umpire and officials.



Japan has its first Grand Slam champion as Naomi Osaka defeated Serena Williams 6-2, 6-4 to win the US Open - but the debut of a new tennis star was overshadowed by Serena Williams being given a game penalty by umpire Carlos Ramos amid controversial scenes.

It should have been the best moment of Osaka's life - she had just played a superb match to defeat her idol Serena Williams, the woman she had always dreamed of playing in the final of the US Open, to claim her maiden major title. 

Williams comforts Osaka during the trophy ceremony (TIMOTHY A. CLARY/AFP/Getty Images)
Instead as the trophy ceremony began, the 20-year-old Japanese-American player dissolved into tears as the crowd on Arthur Ashe Stadium furiously booed the presentation party.

Osaka came into the match as the underdog, on the wrong side of an immense gulf in experience and accomplishment that divided her from Williams, 16 years her senior and holding 23 major titles including six US Opens. But the younger woman was not overawed by the occasion or the opponent, responding to it instead as an opportunity to seize, breaking Williams in the third and fifth games and wrapping up a 6-2 first set. 

Williams held to 15 to start the second set and Osaka was serving at 0-1 when the trouble began. With Osaka leading 40-15, umpire Carlos Ramos announced a code violation warning for Williams for coaching - i.e. someone in her box giving her signals to make certain tactical adjustments.

Williams approached the chair and delivered an icy monologue to Ramos, denying that she had ever been coached and ending with: 'I don't cheat to win, I'd rather lose.'

Osaka closed out the game and Williams went on to hold for 2-1 before once again expressing her displeasure - in completely civil terms - to Ramos during the change of ends. 

Williams went on to break Osaka to lead 3-1, but after serving two double faults, was broken straight back. The American smashed her racquet on the court and was accordingly given a second code violation and a point penalty - alhough neither player seemed aware of the point penalty Ramos had announced until the start of the next game when Ramos announced the score as 15-0.

Williams once again approached the umpire's chair, furious this time. 'You owe me an apology, I have never cheated in my life,' she said, among other things. But the game continued and Osaka held serve to love for 3-3 before breaking to lead 4-3.

Now trailing by a set and a break, Williams delivered a vehement monologue to Ramos, accusing him of attacking her character, repeatedly telling him that he owed her an apology, informing him he would not be umpiring any match of hers again and calling him a 'thief' and a 'liar'. 

Williams argues with tournament referee Brian Earley  (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)
Ramos responded by docking Williams a game penalty for verbal abuse.

A shocked Williams demanded that the tournament referee, Brian Earley, come out on to court. On the verge of tears, Williams passionately made her case to him, arguing among other things that she was being punished more harshly than a male player would have been. Her protestations were not listened to. 

Now down 3-5, Williams held to love to stay in the match, but continued to berate the referee at the change of ends. 

Osaka produced an impeccable game to serve out the match, holding to 30 to win her first major title. The Japanese-American player pulled down her visor to hide her face as she walked to the net and although she received a warm hug from Williams - who did not shake the umpire's hand, but instead told him again she was owed an apology - the situation was clearly excruciating for the shy 20-year-old.

It only got worse as the trophy ceremony began, with the crowd ferociously booing the presentation party despite the fact that the umpire had left the court, and causing Osaka to dissolve into tears again. Williams put her arm around the younger woman and tried to comfort her, and when she had the opportunity to take the mic, asked the crowd to stop booing and celebrate her opponent. 

Struggling to speak through her tears, Williams told the crowd: 'I just want to tell you guys, she played well, this is her first Grand Slam ... 

'I know you guys were here rooting and I was rooting too but let's make this the best moment we can ... Let's not boo any more, let's be positive. Congratulations Naomi! No more booing!'

Osaka told the crowd: 'I know everyone was cheering for her and I'm sorry it had to end this way.' 

Despite Williams's efforts to calm the crowd, defuse the situation and celebrate her young opponent, it was agonizing to watch what should have been Osaka's coming-out party descend into an unpleasant, angry spectacle.

Williams congratulates Osaka (EDUARDO MUNOZ ALVAREZ/AFP/Getty Images)
The Indian Wells champion made one of the most extraordinary debut appearances in a Grand Slam final we have seen, certainly since Jelena Ostapenko - also born in 1997 - beat Simona Halep to win the French Open in 2017. 

But it's one thing to come back from a set and a break down against a nervous Simona Halep, and quite another to control the match against Serena Williams, as Osaka did. She rocked the American back on her heels with the same blend of power, pace and precision that Williams is used to dishing out to opponents, and although her first break of serve came courtesy of a double fault, she had come out on top of an extraordinary forehand duel two points earlier, and sealed it with an ace to move ahead 3-1. When Osaka won another baseline rally to give herself a point for a double break and converted to lead 4-1, Williams tried to attack the net but was stymied by a whipping cross-court forehand pass from Osaka on the run. Break point down at 1-4, Osaka unleashed an 117mph ace and came out on top of a rattling exchange of backhands to give herself game point, converting with a big serve to lead 5-1. She would serve out the first set with three superb service winners from 15-15. 

Williams started to find her rhythm on serve in the second set, and she saved break point on her serve at 1-1 before producing an exceptional backhand drop shot from the baseline to give herself game point and move ahead 2-1. Having received the coaching violation, she seemed fired up and eventually broke Osaka's serve - and the Japanese-American player's run of 21 consecutive break points saved since the fourth round against Aryna Sabalenka - but served three double faults in the next game, at least partly because of the standard of Osaka's returning throughout and her unwillingness to engage in any lengthy baseline duels with the younger woman. Osaka reeled off three games in a row, first holding to love for 3-3 with an ace down the T, and then from 30-30 landing an almost unbelievably good backhand return winner down the line for break point followed by a winning passing shot to put herself two games from the title.

Osaka was awarded one of the games by the umpire - but she had to win the second and amid a storm of booing, she delivered an unplayable service game, starting with a sizzling forehand winner and ending with an ace and two unreturnable serves. Had this been any other Grand Slam final, it would have been heralded as one of the most remarkable displays of poise, power and maturity we have ever seen from a first-time finalist.

Instead, the conversation will be about the penalties Williams received, and her contention that she was punished more harshly than a male player would have been in the same situation. It's a conversation we absolutely need to have - especially after we saw an umpire earlier in the tournament get down from his chair and try to coax a male player, with a history of unsportsmanlike conduct, to make an effort instead of tanking his match. It's Williams's curse that these conversations often take place at her expense. 

But this one should not take place at the expense of a new Grand Slam champion, and the performance she delivered to claim her first title. Let's just hope it hasn't put Naomi Osaka off the US Open forever.


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Naomi Osaka wins first Grand Slam title but controversy reigns as Serena Williams clashes with officials in the US Open final

Japan has its first Grand Slam champion as Naomi Osaka defeated Serena Williams 6-2, 6-4 to win the US Open - but the debut of a new tennis star was overshadowed by Serena Williams being given a game penalty by umpire Carlos Ramos amid controversial scenes

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