9th September 2018. Serena Williams (USA) vs Naomi Osaka (Japan), one aiming to win her 24th Grand Slam, guaranteeing her place as the greatest female tennis player of all time, the other just overwhelmed at playing her idol in the final of the US Open. Serena was a clear favorite, Naomi just making up the numbers for many. But the events that followed could not have been foreseen by anyone and one thing is for certain, it would be one that would be remembered for a long time.
For all those of you who have not been following the story, here is a summary of what actually happened during the match. Midway through the second set, the umpire Carlos Ramos issued a warning against Serena Williams as her coach had made some hand signals towards her ( the umpire implying that the coach was trying to coach Serena during the match, something that is considered illegitimate in tennis). Being a crucial time in the set and Naomi leading by 4-3, Serena seemed to lose her cool and vented at the umpire, raising an argument of him being sexist and so forth. Losing the subsequent point as a result of a great rally by the Japanese, Serena smashed her racquet on the court, which again is a code violation in tennis.
This is where things get interesting- two violations meant that by default the umpire had to award a point in Naomi’s favor and a third violation would mean that Serena would forfeit a game, giving her opponent a chance to serve for the Championship. After the second violation, Serena still fuming at the previous decisions made by the umpire returned to her bench and made sure that the umpire knew exactly how she felt about the whole situation. To add to the controversy, the 23 time Grand Slam Winner went ahead and accused the umpire of being a ‘thief’ and being ‘sexist’. This unsportsmanlike comment towards the chair umpire meant that a third code violation was committed by Serena, thereby forfeiting a game by default and subsequently the match.
Naomi Osaka, the 20-year-old Japanese, who had idolized Serena Williams for all her life now had the chance to win her maiden Grand Slam Championship, not only beating her idol but in the process, would become the first Japanese woman to win a major tournament. Even after a thorough and well-deserved victory, she was booed by the crowd and even the commentators were stunned at the result. But what followed was something that should never happen again; after all the booing, Naomi broke down into tears, covering her face with the visor of her cap, saddened by the reaction and circumstances under which she had won.
Was the behavior of the audience fair towards the 20-year-old who had just outplayed one of the greatest female tennis players to have ever played the sport? Was it right on the part of the chair umpire Carlos Ramos and Serena Williams to devoid the Japanese from all the limelight that she had so deservedly earned? Read on to know what my take is on the entire matter.
Analyzing the tennis itself, Naomi outplayed Serena in every department- be it her power serving from the baseline or her forehand winners. The 20-year-old Japanese had come out all guns blazing to which Serena had no answers for. The utter helplessness that the 23-time champion felt, only compounded her problems as it was during then that the umpire issued a coaching-penalty code violation. As a tennis fan, considering that the match was on a knife-edge with Naomi leading 4-3, the timing of the penalties could not have been worse.
Penalty 1: Coaching Penalty
In tennis, it is considered to be illegitimate if the coach tries to ‘coach’ the player per se, while the player is on the court. But, it is only natural for the coach to give instructions or suggestions to the player judging the course of the game or so forth. The momentum of the match was with Naomi and Serena’s coach felt that she should not play from the baseline that often and should rather come up to the net and tried to communicate the same to her via some hand gestures. Whether or not Serena saw them is debatable but it is unfortunate that the chair umpire, Carlos Ramos spotted the same. As the chair umpire, if you are aware that something along these lines is happening, then he is confined by the laws of the game to issue a penalty.
It is one of those unfortunate things that came to the chair umpire’s notice and like Serena’s coach rightly said, ‘Coaching happens all the time’, so as a professional player she should have taken the whole incident in her stride and gotten on with the game. Rafael Nadal is one player who gets this violation all the time, simply because of his sheer passion for the game. Instead of getting overwhelmed by the situation, he takes it in his stride and tries to silence his critics by his ground game rather than his tantrums.
Penalty 2: Racquet Abuse Code Violation
It was pretty clear that the initial warning had riled up the 23-time champion and another amazing rally that was won by Naomi, only fueled the fire to Serena’s outbreak. A common practice in tennis- venting out the disappointment of losing a relatively crucial point via smashing the racquet on the ground. It is a blatant penalty and nothing could have been done about that.
Penalty 3: Referee Abuse Violation
Two consecutive penalties meant that a point was awarded to Naomi at a crucial point in the match and this was something that did not go down well with Serena. During the interval between successive points, she confronted the chair umpire and accused him of being a ‘thief’ and ‘sexist’. Agreed that she is a passionate athlete, but to accuse the chair umpire of being sexist, was that really necessary? Was that a comment backed by reason or was it her frustration venting?
Unfortunately, I think it was the latter. The chair umpire Carlos Ramos has had a previous history of awarding similar such penalties to the top players on the male circuit. The likes of Novak Djokovic, Rafael Nadal, and others had been issued penalties on similar such grounds in the French Open of this year. Therefore, to say that the umpire would have reacted differently if it had been a men’s match is simply unsportsmanlike of Serena although her venting to a certain extent is justifiable.
Naomi Osaka. A 20-year-old Japanese woman playing against her idol in the US Open Women’s Final, serving for the Championship, is booed by the crowd following the controversy. Was it right on their part to engage in such a disgracing chant? Absolutely not. Even during the presentation ceremony, the crowd engaged in a similar act and as a result, Naomi broke down, trying to hide her tears via the visor of her cap. It felt as though she was almost apologetic of winning the match- the match she had dreamed of all her life and to come out victorious in that is truly a herculean feat, meant to be praised and lauded for.
Was it right for the chair umpire Carlos Ramos to assert his authority on the match since judging by the proceedings of things, there was no way that Serena was going to make a comeback. Was it right for Serena to lash out at the umpire in such an unsportsmanlike manner after being thoroughly outplayed by her opponent? These are the questions that are being floated around but one thing is for certain, no individual should take away from the fact that Naomi played exceptionally well to clinch her maiden Grand Slam and is one to look out for in the future!
To know more about what actually went down on the court, do visit the link that I have attached below.