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Naomi Osaka vs. Serena Williams

Meilin Morefield, Head of Sports and Photography

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There’s a lot of controversy surrounding last weekend’s Women’s Tennis U.S. Open. 20-year-old Naomi Osaka competed against her childhood idol Serena Williams. It was a historically significant match and some amazing tennis was played by both women, however it wasn’t Osaka’s 6-2, 6-4 win that left everyone talking; it was Serena Williams’ outburst. 

During the second set, Serena Williams got a warning for a coaching violation, which acted as the ignition for the entire spectacle at the match. This caused a misunderstanding between Williams and the umpire because although Patrick Mouratoglou–Williams’ coach–admitted to coaching, it doesn’t seem like Serena saw him. Williams proceeded to say to Carlos Ramos, the chair umpire who made the call, “I’m telling you that I don’t cheat to win. I’d rather lose.” Everything seemed to be fine after that.

Later on in the set (Williams was leading 3-1), Williams smashed her racket in frustration which led to her second violation therefore causing Osaka to gain a point, according to the code of conduct. This action of penalizing Williams with a point was described as rare by Luke Jensen, a commentator of the match. After learning about the score, a confused Williams again goes up to Ramos. “I didn’t get coaching. You need to make an announcement saying that I didn’t get coaching.” She then continues on to say, “You owe me an apology. I have never cheated in my life. I have a daughter and I stand for what’s right for her. I’ve never cheated and you owe me an apology. You will never do another one of my games,” making clear that she was mostly upset with the insinuation that she was cheating, even though Ramos never explicitly alleged Williams was cheating. Nonetheless, cheating or not, according to the code of conduct, a player is responsible and will be penalized for the actions of their coach, whether they’re aware of the actions or not.

After Osaka had caught up to Williams with a lead of 4-3, Williams, still fuming about the point being taken away, again confronted the umpire. She accused him of attacking her character and repeatedly told him to give her an apology. “You stole a point from me. You’re a thief too.” After being called a thief, Ramos gave Williams a third violation for verbal abuse, which resulted in a game penalty, the game score then being 5-3, with Osaka in the lead.

The referees then came out because Williams requested to speak with them. She soon became emotional when talking with them, claiming that what was happening wasn’t fair. What sparked the main controversy of the entire match was what Williams said next, “Do you know how many men do other things that are much worse than that? There are a lot of things men have said out here, but because they are men, that doesn’t happen to them. This is unbelievable…Because I’m a woman, you’re going to take this from me?”

These comments brought out a whole new argument, and people have taken many different sides. Some agree with Williams, declaring that there was a double standard with the behavior of players. However, experiences have been brought to light where Carlos Ramos have penalized Novak Djokovic, Rafael Nadal, and Roger Federer–some of the best male tennis players in the world–for the same violations. Other people argue that the issue with the match has nothing to do with sexism, but behavior. A general consensus that every seems to come to though is that Osaka’s victory had become lost and overshadowed by the controversy. “It is Naomi’s moment, but the story is–as it always is–centered around Serena Williams,” says Luke Jensen.

During the uncomfortable trophy ceremony, Osaka, who had maintained impressive composure for the entirety of the match, started to cry due to the crowd’s booing. She was then comforted by Williams who had told the crowd to stop booing. “I know that everyone was cheering for her and I’m sorry it has to end like this,” says Osaka (the crowd then cheered proceeded to cheer her on and let her know that it was okay) “I just want to say thank you for watching the match.”

At the end of the day, what really matters is that Naomi Osaka made history by becoming first Japanese woman to win a grand slam, and did so at just 20-years old.

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Naomi Osaka vs. Serena Williams