Monday, September 10, 2018

US Open 2018: Naomi vs Serena - When emotion got the better of tennis

It was a US Open like never before: breathtaking display of tennis from 20-year-old Naomi Osaka to outclass 36-year-old Serena Williams. Naomi became the first Japanese to win a Grand Slam, by defeating someone who has won 23 of them! No mean achievement!

Here are the highlights of that great match:


It is almost two days now since tennis history was made. But sadly, what is in focus still are matters other than tennis: the outburst of Serena.


A quick recap. It all began when Naomi was 40-15 up in the second game of the second set when chair umpire Carlos Ramos handed a code violation to Serena's coach Patrick Mouratoglou after the umpire noticed that Patrick was gesturing to the player in the form of coaching, which is not allowed.

Serena walked up to the umpire and said that she didn't see any gesturing from the coach, and that there is no need for her to cheat. "I would lose rather than cheat," she told the umpire.

(However, after the match, the coach admitted that he was coaching Serena during the match.) 

Serena went on, to go up 3-1 over Naomi in that 2nd set.


Then, in the next game, came a close call, and Serena lost a serve. In anger, she smashed the racket, which got twisted out of shape; and as another code violation against Serena, Naomi was then awarded a point.

Serena's anger boiled over. She called the umpire a liar and a thief (for taking points away from her.)

The match continued, but Serena's rant also continued. So too the boos and jeers from the crowd.


“I don’t cheat! You need to make an announcement. I have never cheated in my life. I have a daughter! You owe me an apology. You owe me an apology.”

And the shouting at the umpire got her the third penalty, a game penalty.

Serena got more furious, and accused the umpire of being sexist.

“Are you kidding me? ... Because I called you a thief? ... This is not fair. This is not fair. This has happened to me so many times. ... There are lot of men out here who have said a lot worse than that. I called him a thief because he stole a point from me. .... "

The boos and jeers reached a crescendo.

It couldn't have been worse for Serena. 23-time Grand Slam champion, looking towards equalling Margret Court's record of 24, on the 45th anniversary of Margaret's achievement.

Serena used all her energy and abilities. But the last game went Naom's way: 15-0, 15-15, 30-15, 40-15. Game, set and the Championship.


Then, followed the most bizzare award presentation ceremony.

One, the umpire was told not to come on to the state.

Two, Naomi Osaka was not just crying, but so embarrassed that she was pulling the visor of the cap to cover her face. They were not tears of joy. She wasn't smiling at all. How sad! She actually apologised to the crowd for not letting their favourite player win.

Three, Serena too was crying. Then, she did something remarkable.  She asked the crowd to stop booing and jeering, and let the new champion savour her golden moment. Only Serena could have done that. And she did that. I am glad that she acted wisely, unlike the way she allowed herself to be carried away by emotion during the match.

But lots of damage had been done already.

Felt so sad for Naomi.


One, as far as I know, from what I have read and heard, Carlos Ramos has a good reputation as an umpire. He is one of strictest in the circuit. He would have done the same thing, if it was another player, man or woman.

Two, on-court coaching does happen. Many coaches and players have been pulled up before. But they have all moved on, without creating a scene.

Three, Serena was spot on, on the issue of sexism. Everyone knows that. Many male players have barked even the F-word at umpires. Serena was right to bring up that issue. But not at that time, and not against this umpire. The biased rulings had been given by other umpires.


Only one reason why Serena behaved the way she did: Unbearable pressure. She has been putting all her best after that maternity break, to claw her way back to the top spot, where she rightly belongs. At New York, she was just about there, when this Japanese girl was powering her way through. This was also an occasion for her to equal Margret Court's record.

Naomi Osaka was definitely playing better than Serena. That's where it all began, for Serena, who then just let emotions get the better of the game. While I won't disagree with Serena's point about sexism, that was not the place to raise it, and take away in the process all the focus from Naomi's performance.


Naomi Osaka deserves all the credit and accolades. She played superbly. She kept her cool, didn't allow herself to be distracted by not only Serena's rants but the continuous raucous jeers of the crowd. It is not easy when 23,000 are booing and you know you are not the favourite of the crowd.

The current focus might be on Serena. But Naomi will be remembered for years and years to come, for the spectacular display of tennis that outclassed Serena.


  1. I've been hearing a lot about this.

  2. I watched this match. I wanted to write a post about this. Naomi Osaka is a class act. Serena Williams, in my opinion, left a lot to be desired. She is a habitual offender. Many of these US athletes, if things don’t go their way, will raise the Sex Card and the Race Card.

    In my opinion, Naomi pulled the visor of the cap to cover her face, probably she was too embarrassed to stand with Serena. What a contrast in on court behavior.

    I am sure you will be interested to read the two posts I wrote in 2009.

  3. A brilliant and fair writeup of what we have all seen and read in dailies. An umpire is like a judge vested with some resposibilities and powers. No aggrieved party can shout and abuse in public even when the decision is wrong, which is not so in the instant case.
    Remember in cricket before DRS days players on the verge of a century have been declared out wrongly. They might have disagreed with the ruling but they silently walked back to pavillion shaking their head. Same in soccer too where the umpire is unquestionable.
    Serena must be ruing in leisure at her indiscretion on the spur of the moment.
    Well written Mr Pradeep!

  4. I am not sure if there could more to such controversial incidents. Most controversies, especially emotional ones, are orchestrated by the organisers to rekindle people's waning attention and attraction. I hope this is not the case here.

    Destination Infinity

  5. This is a very balanced recounting of this event and the aftermath. Nicely written!