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Friday / January 18.
  • Naomi Osaka wins US Open as Serena Williams tells umpire, ‘I don’t cheat to win, I’d rather lose’

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    NEW YORK — Naomi Osaka made history on Saturday evening, becoming the first player born in Japan to win a Grand Slam title.

    The 20-year old was calm, cool and collected and played brilliantly in her first-ever Grand Slam final, beating 23-time major champion Serena Williams, 6-2, 6-4, on the biggest of stages before a packed house in Arthur Ashe Stadium.

    Unfortunately for Osaka, the match will largely be rememembered for a series of penalties given to Williams by umpire Carlos Ramos, and the resulant outbursts that Serena delivered in his direction as he gave her a warning for illegal coaching, a point penalty for smashing her racket and ultimately a game penalty for calling him “a thief.” In her post-match interview, Williams said Ramos was “sexist” because he wouldn’t have penalized a male player this way.

    It was an extraordinary series of events that saw Serena holding back tears as she shouted at Ramos and tournament referee Brian Earley, and later saw Osaka crying as she accepted the trophy.

    As the two players were presented with their trophies after the match, a cascade of boos rained down from an angry crowd upset with the way the match unfolded.

    “I don’t want to be rude, I don’t want to do questions,” Serena said on court. “I just want to tell you guys, she played well and this is her first Grand Slam. But I know you guys are here rooting and I was rooting, too. And let’s make this the best moment we can.

    “Let’s not boo anymore. We’re going to get through this and let’s be positive. Congratulations, Naomi. No more booing. It’s been a tough year for me but thank so you so much.”

    Osaka, who is now 2-0 against arguably the GOAT of women’s tennis, cried as she was presented with the trophy and winner’s check for $3.8 million. She is the eighth different woman in the last eight majors to win a Slam title.

    “It was always my dream to play Serena in the US Open final so I’m really glad I was able to do that and I’m really grateful I was able to do that,” she said, before bowing in Serena’s direction. “Thank you.”

    Asked if she felt her moment in the sun was compromised by Serena’s and Ramos’ behavior, Osaka was almost zen-like.

    “When I step on the court, I’m not a Serena fan – I’m just a tennis player playing another tennis player,” she said. “But when I hugged her at the net, I felt like a little kid again.”

    Williams was bidding to tie Margaret Court with her 24th career Grand Slam title, but has now lost in both the Wimbledon and US Open finals in 2018. She will soon turn 37 and will have to wait until 2019 to tie Court.

    Osaka used concussive hitting from the baseline with sharp angles and tremendous movement to take charge and hand Serena an early-double break for a 4-1 lead.

    She closed out the first set at 6-2 with a 117-mph service winner. The set was over in just 33 minutes.

    That did not bode well for Serena, who is now s 2-8 in Grand Slam finals after losing the first set. Osaka, meantime, is 32-0 this year after winning the first set.

    The match began to turn when Serena got a warning for illegal coaching from her coach Patrick Mouratoglou in the second game of the second set. He appeared to be telling her to come to the net more.

    Serena approached the chair and told Ramos she wasn’t getting coaching.

    “I don’t cheat to win, I’d rather lose,” she told Ramos.

    “It’s not something I do,” she told Ramos on the crossover.

    But Mouratoglou told ESPN’s Pam Shriver after the match he was in fact coaching, but that Serena didn’t see him. He said Osaka’s coach, Sasha Bejin, also a former hitting partner of Serena, was also coaching.

    “I’m honest, I was coaching,” he said. “I don’t think she even looked at me. I was like 100 percent of the coaches on 100 percent of the matches. Sasha was coaching too.”

    With Serena up 3-2, Ramos gave her a point penalty for racket abuse when she smashed it in anger.

    At the changeover, after Serena was broken to go down 4-3, Williams was assessed a third code violation for verbal abuse in the judgment of the umpire, which then required a game penalty.

    “You’re a thief, you stole a game from me,” Williams said. “I need the referee.”

    Earley then came out and the fireworks continued.

    “Because I’m a woman you’re going to take this away from me, that’s not right,” she told him. “Every single year that I play, it’s just not right.”

    She amplified her comments in her post-match interview, saying Ramos was “sexist” for penalizing her in a way a man wouldn’t have been. Still, we’re hard-pressed to find an example of a man calling an umpire a “thief.”

    “I can’t sit here and say I wouldn’t say he’s a thief, because I thought he took a game from me,” she said.

    “But I’ve seen other men call other umpires several things. I’m here fighting for women’s rights and for women’s equality and for all kinds of stuff. For me to say ‘thief’ and for him to take a game, it made me feel like it was a sexist remark. He’s never taken a game from a man because they said ‘thief’.

    “For me it blows my mind. But I’m going to continue to fight for women and to fight for us to have equal — like Cornet should be able to take off her shirt without getting a fine. This is outrageous.

    “I just feel like the fact that I have to go through this is just an example for the next person that has emotions, and that want to express themselves, and want to be a strong woman. They’re going to be allowed to do that because of today. Maybe it didn’t work out for me, but it’s going to work out for the next person.”

    After the match, Mouratoglou fired shots at Ramos on Twitter.

    Katrina Adams, the USTA Chairman of the Board, issued this statement.

    “What Serena did on the podium today showed a great deal of class and sportsmanship. This was Naomi’s moment, and Serena wanted her to be able to enjoy it. That was a class move from a true champion. What Serena has accomplished this year in playing her way back on to the tour is truly amazing. She continues to inspire, because she continues to strive to be the best. She owns virtually every page of the record book, but she’s never been one to rest on her laurels. She’s always working to improve; always eager to embrace new challenges; and to set new standards. She is an inspiration to me, personally, and a credit to our sport, win or lose. I know that she was frustrated about the way the match played out, but the way she stepped up after the final and gave full credit to Naomi for a match well-played speaks volumes about who she is.”

    The bottom line is that Osaka won her first Grand Slam but it will be overshadowed by what happened with Williams.

    “I know that everyone was cheering for her and I’m sorry it had to end like this,” Osaka said crying. “I just want to say thank you for watching the match, thank you.”

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    Adam Zagoria is a Basketball Insider who covers basketball at all levels. A contributor to The New York Times and SportsNet New York (SNY), he is also the author of two books and is an award-winning journalist and filmmaker. His articles have appeared in ESPN The Magazine, SLAM, Sheridan Hoops, Basketball Times and in newspapers nationwide. He also won an Emmy award for his work on the SNY mini-documentary on Syracuse guard Tyus Battle. A veteran Ultimate Frisbee player, he has competed in numerous National and World Championships and, perhaps more importantly, his teams won the Westchester Summer League (WSL) championships in 2011 and 2013. He lives in Manhattan with his wife and children.