Sunday, September 9, 2018 at 8:56 AM

US Open: Serena’s Upset with Umpire Overshadowed Naomi’s Upset of Her

Posted by Anthony L. Hall

Naomi Osaka beat her idol, 6-2, 6-4, to win her first Grand Slam title. But all anybody will remember was Williams’ emotional outburst on the court, where she got hit with a game violation in the second set [for, cumulatively, receiving coaching, demanding the umpire apologize to her, breaking her racket, and calling the umpire a thief].

(New York Post, September 8, 2018)

Truth be told, when I saw Williams melting down midway through the second set, I had flashbacks from her epic meltdown at this same tournament in 2009, under eerily similar circumstances. Back then, getting a foot fault triggered a volcanic eruption at a lowly lineswoman, during which she infamously threatened to “take this f***king ball and shove it down your f***king throat.”  I commented in “Serena Snaps … at US Open,” September 15, 2009.

I was so braced for a repeat that I immediately began texting an old friend to commiserate. (He is easily the biggest Williams fan on the planet.) Except that Serena was more serene this time. What’s more, she had a legitimate complaint.

The chair umpire should not have penalized her a whole, hard-fought game, especially at such a critical point in the match. Not to mention that men routinely say and do far worse. And umpires hardly ever give them a warning, let alone penalize them a whole game – a point Williams pleaded to the tournament referee to no avail. #DoubleStandard!

For future reference, the umpire should be required to issue at least three public warnings before stripping any player of a whole game for emotional outbursts. This should include making it clear after the second warning — to the player and fans alike — that the next warning will cost the player a game.

Otherwise, the umpire should leave it to the tournament referee to levy fines after the match, instead of making any decision that could determine the outcome of the match.

I hasten to clarify that that was not the case in this match. Because Williams was toast even before her emotional outburst. Osaka was outplaying her that much throughout the match. Indeed, I suspect even Williams knew she was losing it before she lost it.

This was hardly her finest hour on the court. Calling the umpire a thief — no matter how justified her outrage — was plainly ill-advised. Not least because it provided fodder for detractors who would like to dismiss her as a lucky, androgynous thug, instead of hailing her as the GOAT and a good role model for young girls everywhere. You know, you can take the girl out of the ghetto, but …

Except that Williams soon redeemed herself (for this and all previous outbursts). Because, despite still visibly seething with anger and fighting back tears when the trophy ceremony began, she coached her fans, who composed 99 percent of crowd, to stop booing and give Osaka her due. They obliged.

Unfortunately, the deed was done. For never before in the history of sports has a winner looked so crestfallen and unappreciated. And neither Serena’s comforting hug nor the winner’s check (for $3.8 million) did anything to lift Osaka’s fretful countenance.

This should have been the happiest day of her life. Yet it must have been dispiriting enough that she had just upset her childhood idol on the biggest stage in Tennis. But, incited by that idol’s meltdown, the crowd was now treating her like a villain, which was clearly too much for the 20-year-old Osaka to properly process.

Meanwhile, it could not have been lost on Williams that this was the second time, since returning from maternity leave, she squandered an ideal opportunity to pad her record-setting 23 Grand Slam titles. She knows she’s on the cusp of such opportunities becoming few and far between. Not to mention that there seems to be an assembly line of one-slam wonders waiting to deny her that 24th and 25th Grand Slam, which would take her pass Margaret Court’s all-time record of 24. I suspect this realization fueled her outburst.

Nonetheless, as I wrote after she squandered that first opportunity, Williams shows none of the resignation Tiger Woods does these days. For he seems perfectly content to play on his laurels; you know, reveling in praise based solely on the fading hope that he will go all the way in the next tournament and finally recapture old glory. By contrast, she seems as determined as ever to win. She proved as much during her post-match interview, saying she’s going to study tapes of this match to pick up on some new tricks the young Osaka showed her.

That said, one has to wonder if Naomi Osaka is the second coming of Serena Williams, who will dominate the game for the next decade or more; or if she’s just another one-slam wonder, like Sloane Stephens, who will soon fade away.

I think Naomi is the former, and I look forward to watching her surpass Serena.

Incidentally, it’s interesting that this biracial player is the first Japanese (man or women) to win a Grand Slam singles title. But, like I did, you’re probably wondering why she uses her Japanese mother’s last name instead of her Haitian father’s, whose name is Leonard Francois. Things that make you go hmmmm, no?

After all, Osaka has lived in the United States since she was three years old, and holds dual US-Japanese citizenship. And reports are that her father has been as much a guiding force and paternal presence in her life as Serena’s was in hers.

Well it turns out her father chalks this up to nothing more than common sense:

  • In homogeneous Japan, a biracial child stands a much better chance in life if she at least has a Japanese name; and
  • In competitive America, a Tennis player stands a much better chance of securing funding for training if she competes under the flag of a less competitive country like Japan. This, even though, like so many foreign athletes, she trains exclusively in America.

Game. Set. Match. The Osakas!

NOTE: Novak Djokovic plays Juan Martin Del Potro in the men’s final this afternoon. But I have about as much interest in men’s Tennis as most people have in women’s Basketball. Are you even aware that the Washington Mystics and Seattle Storm played game 1 of the WNBA finals on Friday? So no, I won’t be watching the men’s final, let alone commenting on it.

Related commentaries:
Serena snaps
Post-baby Serena lost Wimbledon
Hail, Sloane Stephens

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