US Open, New York
Women’s Championship:  Naomi Osaka (JPN) vs.  Serena Williams (USA)
It was a meeting between the future and the past. Osaka is a young player (20 years old) on the cusp of perhaps a brilliant career versus a once dominant number one, who owns twenty-three major titles. History favored Williams, who had been to thirty prior major finals; yet, we also know that pressure is a great equalizer on the tennis court. Osaka came on court with several factors in her favor: youthful enthusiasm; confidence; no pressure; and the knowledge that she had defeated Williams earlier this season.
All the pressure was on Williams’ shoulders as much is still expected of her despite the fact that she is just returning from a complicated delivery. Williams has been here before and has shown that as great as she is, she is still susceptible to the negative effects of pressure. Add a couple of new wrinkles to the script: she lost badly in their only previous encounter; and her opponent appeared to be handling the nerves with quiet aplomb. Nerves were apparent early for Williams, who struggled with her movement and her serve (a low number of aces, too many double faults and unforced errors).
The first set was over before Williams could control her emotions much less offer up any resistance. However, we expected Williams to mount a comeback as she has done so many times before. A controversial coaching violation warning from the umpire early in the second seemed to motivate Williams, who got her first break of serve in the fourth game. Yet, Williams could not consolidate and was immediately broken back in her next service game. In frustration Williams cracked her racquet on the court and was assessed a code violation for racquet abuse. Since that was her second violation she was penalized a point and Osaka started her service game up 15-0 without serving a ball. Williams yelled at the umpire that she was not receiving coaching and that he owed her an apology and she lost control of her emotions; thereafter the negative emotions prevented her from playing quality tennis.
The ensuing drama detracted from the match. Although the second set was a little more competitive it was also inevitable that Osaka would win because she was in better control of her emotions and playing consistently quality tennis. By the end of the match both players were in tears and while they were tears of joy for Osaka; that was not the case for Williams. When you bottle so much up inside, sometimes an explosion is inevitable and we have seen that before with Williams (flash back to her match against Kim Clijsters in the semifinals of the 2009 US Open). As much as we admire Williams, the changing of the guards was inevitable and it appears that Osaka is ready to assume the mantle.
How will this loss sit with Williams? I believe that contrary to what she says, she wanted to win this and it will be a blow to her ego; however, if the fire is still there, I think this loss will also motivate her, perhaps even more than her 2004 loss to Maria Sharapova in the Wimbledon final.
It was inappropriate of the crowd to boo Osaka. They cannot hold her accountable for Williams having another pressure induced meltdown. Osaka played brilliantly and Williams simple did not. We saw Osaka win the Rising Star tournament in 2015 at the Singapore WTA Finals; she is no longer a rising star, she has risen all the way to be the 2018 US Open champion with her 6-2, 6-4 defeat of Williams.
Credit Williams for having good sportsmanship; she comforted Osaka despite her own pain at losing. It was not that she lost, it was the way she allowed her emotions to destroy her game and prevent her from playing at the level she is capable of. We saw glimpses of that level; however, they were not enough to earn her the twenty-fourth major title. Will Williams ever get that twenty-fourth major? Two consecutive major finals this year and she was not able to win any.
SOURCE OF IMAGES: serveandrally original (Naomi Osaka – 2015 Rising Star champion)