The 2018 US Open is now closed. Novak Djokovic won his second major title of the season and Naomi Osaka officially announced her arrival into the upper echelons of the game. Bethanie Mattek-Sands, alongside her partner Jamie Murray, made an emotional return from a devastating knee injury to capture the mixed doubles title. Mike Bryan won his second consecutive major without his brother Bob, and with fellow American Jack Sock. CoCo Vandeweghe, who has struggled mightily this year in singles, teamed up with Ashleigh Barty to win the doubles title, while Brazil’s Thiago Seyboth Wild and Wang Xiyu from China grabbed coveted junior crowns.
Sadly, however, all anyone is going to remember from this year’s Open is what happened during the women’s singles final. Tears abounded. And what a crying shame that is.
When Osaka was eight years old, she wrote a report about Serena Williams. The young girl, born in Japan but raised in Miami, painstakingly colored in the project and then told her third-grade classmates, “I want to be like her.”
After Saturday night, maybe not so much.
Osaka is the 2018 US Open champion. No one can take that away from her. But instead of celebrating Saturday night, she said she was going to sleep. A completely understandable response given the turmoil in a final that left her in tears as she accepted the winner’s trophy. And they weren’t tears of joy.
From the moment she took the court under a roofed Arthur Ashe Stadium that made every noise reverberate off the domed ceiling, Osaka, just 20 years old, was under siege. During the warm-up, not more than five rows up from the court, a young woman—clearly a Serena fan—shouted obscenities in Osaka’s direction then thrust the middle fingers on both hands at her. Thankfully, Osaka didn’t see the display.
What Osaka did see, however, were the antics perpetrated by Williams that marred what could have been a high-quality match. In her post-match press conference, Osaka insisted that she wasn’t aware of Williams berating umpire Carlos Ramos, accusing him of being a liar and a thief for playing by the book and penalizing the 23-time Grand Slam champion for coaching, smashing a racket and then verbally abusing him. Osaka said it was too loud in the arena to hear what was going on. But given the intense reaction from the crowd and incessant booing, it is impossible to believe that Osaka was so focused on her own game—on winning her first major—that she was able to completely block out what everyone else saw happening. She did, however, play that way.
The fact is, Serena and her team are wholly responsible for what happened on Saturday night. If Patrick Mouratoglou hadn’t given Serena directives from her player box, hadn’t coached her to go to the net—which he admitted he did—then Ramos wouldn’t have charged Williams with illegal mid-match coaching. Serena claimed, over and over, that she hadn’t seen Mouratoglou’s hand signals, yet within three points she was suddenly hitting approach shots, something she hadn’t done previously. She told Ramos, “I didn’t cheat. I’d rather lose.”
When she demolished her racquet after the fifth game of the second set—a game in which she surrendered the break of serve she held—Serena had to know there would be consequences. Some 14 men and four other women in the tournament were penalized and fined for the same transgression, including Djokovic in the first round and Stan Wawrinka in the second.
In all, 25 men and 10 women were fined during the two-week tournament to the tune of $88,800. Serena accounted for $17,000 of that total. Dominika Cibulkova, who lost to Madison Keys in the fourth round, was called for a coaching violation during her third-round upset of fourth seed Angelique Kerber.
But the kiss of death came after Williams’ serve was broken again in the seventh game of the second set. It was then that she went after Ramos, a highly-regarded, well-respected longtime tour umpire.
“How dare you insinuate that I was cheating,” Williams screamed about an incident that had happened more than 20 minutes earlier. “You owe me an apology. For you to attack my character is something wrong. You are a liar.”
Williams then said to Ramos, “Don’t speak to me,” and she sat in her chair seething. Ramos looked straight ahead. The whole affair could have ended there had Serena chosen to simply go play. Instead she rose from her chair and opted to escalate the situation, shouting at Ramos, “You stole a point from me. You’re a thief too.” It was then that Ramos gave her the game penalty.
Could Ramos instead have gently warned Serena at that point that her foot—and mouth—were perilously close to the line and that she was in danger of incurring a third code violation and game penalty? Perhaps. Would a final admonishment have stopped her rant? Who knows. The fact is, though, that Ramos was doing what he was assigned to do. He followed the directives as clearly spelled out in the Grand Slam Rule Book.