The 2018 U.S. Open for the Grand Slam Tennis Championship was wracked with intensity, excitement, and controversy as underdog Naomi Osaka defeated her childhood idol Serena Williams in the finals.
This weekend 20-year-old Osaka made national headlines as the first ever Japanese tennis player to win a Grand Slam singles title. While her 6-2 6-4 unprecedented victory was certainly something to celebrate, the way Williams lost left everyone feeling uneasy and bitter.
Osaka is a long time fan of Williams, and at 16 years the reigning champion’s junior, Osaka confessed that she grew up aspiring to be Williams and watching her matches from a distance. Her and her pro-tennis playing sister have Mari both dominated the court from a young age. When the time finally came for Osaka to face her hero on the court, Osaka had nothing but words of adoration. (And a great deal of nerves in light of the opportunity).
However once the game began, Osaka quickly realized that this wasn’t going to be the face-off she had always dreamed of.
The match began uneventfully, with Osaka dominating Williams 6 to 2 in the first round, but shortly following that the game dissolved into chaos. It began when the referee gave Williams a code violation from what he deemed “coaching”.
In response Williams asserted that she would rather lose than cheat. Next, Williams lost a point after smashing her racquet in frustration. This penalty set off a string of protests from Williams, defending her character to the audience and demanding an apology from umpire Carlos Ramos. Williams then received a third and final penalty for calling the umpire a “thief” and a “liar”.
After the game both Osaka and Williams were crying, for very different reasons. Osaka, despite her deserved win, hid ashamedly behind her visor, sniffling back tears and apologizing as the crowd booed the defeat of their favorite player. Williams, on the other hand, was mourning what she felt were unfair and biased attacks on her score and reputation performed by the umpire and the U.S. Open conference.
Williams attempted to be a good sport by offering comfort to Osaka and asking the crowd to stop booing out Osaka’s big moment.
Overall it was a very unfortunate situation, especially for Grand Slam newbie Osaka who should have been allowed to revel in her triumph and fairly compete against her favorite tennis star.
Even though Williams was penalized justly according to the International Tennis Federation (ITF) Grand Slam rules, it’s easy to see how she felt assailed and discriminated against.
After her black “catsuit” (a specially designed bodysuit by Nike which she wore to a previous French Open in order to prevent blood clots) was banned by French Tennis Federation president Bernard Guidicelli, and she was made to undertake more drug tests than other female player, tensions ran especially high.
Not to mention Williams just recently got back to the physical shape she was in before giving birth to her daughter.
As critical viewers of sports and the industry we have to be careful of how we frame female athletes, especially women of color, because there is more to their story than the anger and lashing out that we see. There is usually years of mistreatment and bigotry against them lurking beneath the surface that goes unseen.
Photo: Sporting News