The US Open women’s singles final has sparked uproar and controversy following a landmark victory for Japan’s Naomi Osaka over Serena Williams in a dramatic match, which saw the US tennis star penalised for a string of bad behaviour.
The 20-year-old Japanese-Haitian claimed her first Grand Slam title on Saturday, beating her childhood idol and six-time champion 6-2, 6-4 in 1 hour and 19 mins in Flushing Meadows, New York.
“It was always my dream to play Serena in the US Open final, so I’m really glad I was able to do that,” a tearful Osaka said at the trophy presentation.
But her post-match celebration was overshadowed by what Williams later called “sexist” officiating, as the partisan home crowd booed the match officials.
With the first set under the Japanese player’s belt, Williams clashed with the chair umpire Carlos Ramos when she was given a warning for receiving coaching – not permissible at Grand Slams.
Serena Williams argued with tournament officials [Robert Deutsch/USA Today Sports via Reuters]
A few games later, Williams, who was seeking a record-equalling 24th Grand Slam title, received a second warning and a point penalty for breaking her racket.
“You owe me an apology,” Williams said, arguing about the coaching violation. “I have never cheated in my life!”
The 36-year-old Olympic champion was later docked a game at 4-3 for calling the Portuguese official a “thief”, which allowed Osaka to serve for the match and seal the historic victory.
“I’ve seen other men call other umpires several things,” Williams said during her press conference.
“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.”
Osaka, who had beaten Williams in their last encounter in Miami earlier in March, became the first Japanese player ever to win a major tennis title.
Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe congratulated his countrywoman on Twitter.
“Thank you for your energy and excitement during this difficult time in Japan,” he said, referring to the powerful earthquake in the northern island of Hokkaida, which has killed at least 16 people.
Many tennis fans and commentators said it was a shame that Osaka’s win was being overshadowed by the controversy around William’s oncourt “tantrums”.
“A shame that the spotlight remains on Serena William’s behaviour and not the superior performance of Naomi Osaka,” wrote Rebecca Powell. “Let’s celebrate her win not Serena’s loss.”
“The ugly scene overshadowed the dominant performance of Osaka, who quietly wept through a championship ceremony that should have been a coronation of a great new star for women’s tennis,” wrote Tom Perrotta, sports correspondent at the Wall Street Journal.
Others criticised Williams for blaming her loss on sexism.
Meanwhile, former tennis stars and legends of the sport jumped to Williams’ defence, criticising the chair umpire for his “double standards” and calling for a rule change.
“When a woman is emotional, she’s “hysterical” and she’s penalised for it. When a man does the same, he’s “outspoken” and there are no repercussions,” said Billie Jean King, a former world number one.
“Thank you, @serenawilliams, for calling out this double standard. More voices are needed to do the same,” King said.
King, who famously beat Bobby Riggs in the Battle of the Sexes match in 1973, added that Williams was penalised for the actions of her French coach.
Despite Williams’ denial, Patrick Mouratoglou later admitted coaching the American during the match.
Chris Evert, another former world number one and 18-time Grand Slam champion, said the umpire warning was fair, but added “everyone coaches and we need to change that rule”.
On-court coaching, which was first introduced on the women’s tennis tour in 2009, is allowed at regular events outside of the four Grand Slams.
James Blake, a former US Open quarter-finalist and top five male tennis player, admitted that he has said worse and not gotten penalised.
Williams has been at the centre of controversy at the US Open in the past.
In another controversial match in 2009, playing against Belgium’s Kim Clijsters, Williams verbally assaulted a lineswoman, aggressively threatening her over a foot fault call.
She was charged with a hefty fine the following day and put on a two-year probation.