Naomi Osaka defeats Serena Williams in controversial US Open final | News | DW | 09.09.2018
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Naomi Osaka defeats Serena Williams in controversial US Open final

Naomi Osaka was a few months old when Serena Williams won her first major title. Playing her 31st career Grand Slam final, Williams couldn't overcome a controversial umpire call to defeat her 20-year-old rival.

In a dramatic — but short — women's final on Saturday night, 20-year-old Naomi Osaka from Japan won her first Grand Slam title against her idol Serena Williams 6-2, 6-4 in an hour and half. She is the first player from her country to win a Grand Slam title. 

Half an hour into the match, Osaka served for the first set at 5-2. She broke Serena Williams' serve twice and showed no signs of nerves as she out-hit the 36-year-old, taking the first set with a 117 mile per hour (188 kilometer per hour) delivery.

Osaka's coach, Sascha Bajin, was Williams' hitting partner for many years and his knowledge was evident, although Williams came into the final evidently a little flat, and not serving as well as she had done in previous rounds.

US Open Finale Serena Williams vs Naomi Osaka (picture-alliance/AP Photo/A. Kudacki)

Serena Williams was playing in her 31st Grand Slam final

Code violations

Early in the second set, Williams received a code violation for a hand signal from her coach, Patrick Mouratoglou.

She took up the issue with the chair umpire, saying she understood why he took the action after seeing a thumbs-up from the coach, but the American, playing her 31st Grand Slam final, said firmly: "I don't cheat to win, I'd rather lose." 

Williams faced another break point at 1-1 in the second set. But an extraordinary drop shot off a full-powered ground stroke from Osaka helped her fend off the attack and she held for a key 2-1 lead.

US Open Finale Naomi Osaka (picture-alliance/AP Photo/A. Hunger)

Osaka outplayed her idol to win her first US Open title

Osaka matched Williams for serve speed, sending down deliveries at 115 mph. 

Williams smashed her racket to the ground when she lost her serve, after breaking Osaka's serve. That meant she went into the following game with a point-penalty, 0-15.  Osaka moved quickly to 40-0 and took the game to level at 3-3, then broke Williams' serve to go ahead 4-3.

 "You owe me an apology," Williams told the umpire. "I have never cheated in my life!"

Williams then called the umpire a thief for refusing to apologize over the coaching violation. He then defaulted her a game. The tournament referee was called but the decision was upheld and Williams, crying, had to go out to serve at 3-5 down. She broke back to 4-5 but ended the game towards the tunnel, telling the WTA supervisor, "this is not fair."

Osaka finished the match by holding her serve, having outplayed Williams and completed a fine set of wins over the two-week tournament.

Elegance in defeat and victory

After the match, Williams waited on court for the presentation ceremony. 

As she received her runner-up plate, Williams asked the crowd to stop booing and complimented Osaka on her win.

"She played well ... This is her first Grand Slam," Williams said. "I know you guys were here rooting, but let's make this the best moment we can. Let's give everyone the credit where credit is due. Let's not boo any more. Congratulations Naomi."

Osaka was visibly upset: "I know everyone was cheering for her and I'm sorry it had to end like this," she told the crowd.

"It was always my dream to play Serena in the US Open finals," she said. "I'm really grateful I was able to play with you," she told Williams. "Thank you."

Emotional response

The Japanese player was offered advice from all-time champion Billie Jean King after admitting she had been teased for an emotional reaction to winning her match to reach the quarterfinals: "I didn't celebrate because the other time I cried a little bit and people made fun of me, so I thought I'd go straight to the net," said Osaka.

Osaka was a spectator as Williams held her battle with the umpire and referees over the code violations. She held her nerve to keep her game going, and take the match. 

Sauna court

The final was played with the stadium roof closed. Many of the other players have commented that there is a lack of air circulation, especially at court level, with an atmosphere similar to a sauna. 

After a match earlier in the week, finalist Novak Djokovic said, "I have never sweated as much as I have here." 

"I have to take at least 10 shirts for every match. I asked the chair umpire whether they are using some form of ventilation or air conditioning down at the court level, and then he says 'Only what comes through the hallway.' This tournament needs to address this. Because whether it's night or day, we just don't have air down there. It feels like a sauna."

jm/bw (Reuters, AP)

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