U.S. Open: Osaka Maintains Focus, Wins First Grand Slam

For Serena Williams it was a memorable match for the wrong reasons.

Osaka Naomi Osaka (photo: USTA/Darren Carroll)

NEW YORK, September 9, 2018 (by Michael Dickens)

Naomi Osaka won her first Grand Slam title Saturday handily 6-2, 6-4 – and became the first Japanese player to win a major singles title – by staying focused in the moment and playing decisive tennis.

The 20-year-old Osaka displayed much composure and maturity throughout the one hour and 19 minute duration of the 2018 U.S. Open women’s singles championship played under a closed roof at Arthur Ashe Stadium because of rain. The same attributes can’t be said for her fallen opponent, 23-time Grand Slam champion and former No. 1 Serena Williams. She fell short of a 24th major title at Flushing Meadows, which would have tied the all-time record held by Margaret Court. However, it was the way in which she lost that will be remembered and talked about for a long time.

In the second set, the 36-year-old Williams came unraveled and became marred in controversy that led to her receiving a warning, a point penalty and, finally, a game penalty from chair umpire Carlos Ramos. It left many in the capacity crowd booing, which carried over to the trophy presentation and left Osaka fighting back tears.

In short order, Williams was given a code violation for coaching at 40-15 in the first game of the second set, in which her coach Patrick Mouratoglou after the match, in an ESPN interview with Pam Shriver, admitted that “I was coaching.” She received a second code violation for smashing her tennis racquet after double-faulting on consecutive points at 3-1 that allowed Osaka to get back on serve.

During the change over, Williams told Ramos that she doesn’t cheat to win and accused him of attacking her character. She called Ramos a “thief,” and said he stole a point from her, in reference to the second code violation, which is an automatic one-point penalty.

Then, following a lengthy exchange with Ramos, in which Tournament Referee Brian Earley came out on the court to intervene, Williams began finger-pointing at Ramos and became more visibly upset. She was given a third code violation for verbal abuse, which cost her a game.

In pleading her case to Earley, she said, “It’s not right, it’s not fair. For you to attack my character, something is wrong.”

The coaching controversy involving Williams, seeded 17th, overshadowed a tremendous championship performance given by the No. 20 seed Osaka, who became the 11th woman in the Open Era to win her first major at the U.S. Open. She broke Williams twice in each set and served out the match on her first opportunity, succeeding on her second championship point. It was the fourth time in the Open Era that a player seeded No. 10 or higher won the U.S. Open and the second straight year following last year’s triumph by an unseeded Sloane Stephens.

By all accounts, Osaka handled the pressure of playing in her first Grand Slam final extremely well as she placed 73 percent of her first serves in play, lost just 11 points on her first serve and hit 16 winners. She also saved five of six break points. Meanwhile, Williams hit 21 winners, but committed an equal number of unforced errors. She also double-faulted six times.

“I think maybe in a few days I’ll realize what I’ve done,” said Osaka. “I felt like I shouldn’t let myself be overcome by nerves or anything, and I should just really focus on playing tennis because that’s what’s gotten me to this point.”

In her press conference after the match, Williams said she didn’t “know how I’m feeling yet. Haven’t had time to really process everything. But I’m just trying, like I said out there, to stay positive and to look at all the bright things and all the good things and just keep going forward with that.”

Osaka tried to put things in perspective following her unimaginable victory when she spoke with the media. “The thing is, I don’t know what happened on the court. So for me, I’m always going to remember the Serena that I love. It doesn’t change anything for me. She was really nice to me, at the net and on the podium. I don’t really see what would change.”

Osaka handled the moment of her first Grand Slam final extremely well by looking relaxed and playing strong. In the end, she showed that sweetness and toughness can co-exist.

Mattek-Sands and Murray win mixed doubles title

It took four match points for Bethanie Mattek-Sands and Jamie Murray to secure the U.S. Open mixed doubles title Saturday afternoon on Arthur Ashe Stadium.

Mattek-Sands of the United States and Murray of Great Britain beat Alicia Rosolska of Poland and Nikola Mektic of Croatia, 2-6, 6-3, 11-9. It was the second title in two years for Murray, who won last year with Martina Hingis of Switzerland, and it represented a huge triumph for Mattek-Sands after her horrific knee injury last year at Wimbledon. It was her first title since returning to play earlier this year.

“Going from not being able to get myself out of bed last year to play in this final,” said a tearful Mattek-Sands during the trophy presentation. “I don’t care what anyone tells you; if you’re too old or you’re too young, you’re too big or you’re too small. You haven’t had enough opportunities or you’re still waiting for yours. You can do anything you put your mind to. Go out there and choose your attitude. Chose happiness everyday no natter what and big things will happen.”

Mattek-Sands and Murray outpointed Rosolska and Mektic 61-58 as they produced 25 winners against just 10 unforced errors.

The U.S. Open marked the first tournament that Mattek-Sands and Murray have teamed together. “Pick the best partner,” quipped Murray. “I got a good talent for that, I guess. We had an amazing two weeks.” 

During their press conference afterward, Mattek-Sands said, “It was a little emotional getting that win (in the final). I thought I did a really good job throughout all the matches, kind of putting that aside and just going out there and playing tennis. I really enjoyed being on the court with Jamie.”

Mattek-Sands has now won eight Grand Slam titles – five in women’s doubles and three in mixed doubles. She is now just one Wimbledon title away from a career Slam. Meanwhile, Murray became the seventh man in the Open Era to win the U.S. Open mixed doubles title with more than one partner.

Noteworthy

• Naomi Osaka became the fifth first-time champion in the last eight Grand Slams. It’s the first time in 80 years that there’s been four different major champions in back-to-back seasons.

• At 16 years and 20 days, the age gap between Serena Williams and Naomi Osaka was the second widest in U.S. Open finals history, surpassed only by Monica Seles’ victory over Martina Navratilova, who was 17 years and 45 days her senior, at the 1991 U.S. Open final.

• By winning the mixed doubles title with Jamie Murray, Bethanie Mattek-Sands has now won two U.S. Open titles. She previously won a U.S. Open women’s doubles crown with Lucie Safarova.

What they wrote

John Wertheim, Sports Illustrated executive editor and senior writer: “The blizzard scenario that played out during the U.S. Open final between Serena Williams and Naomi Osaka is so deeply unfortunate for any number of reasons.

“Let’s start with the 20-year-old Osaka, who played a terrific match to win her first major, outplaying her childhood idol to win 6-2, 6-4. Undoubtedly, though, the story that resonates from the match will be the controversy involving Williams and chair umpire Carlos Ramos. …

“It was a dark scar on what should have been a glorious day for Osaka. In the post-match trophy presentation, Osaka was in tears while Williams comforted her.”

What they’re saying and tweeting

The Osaka-Williams final generated a variety of opinions from across social media and the players weighed in during their press conferences, too. Here’s a sampling:

• Ben Rothenberg, New York Times tennis correspondent: “Mouratoglou admitted to ESPN that he coached. Thus, the warning was correct by Ramos. Then, racket abuse warning was indisputable. Williams felt entitled to having coaching warning retracted, which never happens. So, she ranted abusively, and got a third warning. All fair.”

• Simon Cambers, Reuters tennis writer: “Aside from those last few games, which were very, very hard to watch, for various reasons, that was a fabulous performance from Naomi Osaka. First of many grand slams for her, surely.”

• Ava Wallace, Washington Post tennis writer: “Naomi Osaka, despite showing staggering focus today, said she was so nervous before the match she couldn’t eat lunch. FaceTimed her big sis Mari three times. Mari, who is in Paris, tried to distract her by showing her baguettes. Carbs win again.”

• Serena Williams on whether she thought the chair umpire played a role in the outcome of the match: “That’s a good question … she was playing really, really well, but it’s hard to say I wouldn’t have gotten to a new level because I’ve done it so many times in my career.”

• Naomi Osaka on why she apologized after beating Williams: “Obviously, when I step on the tennis court, I’m a different person, right? … But when I hugged her at the net, I felt like a little kid again.”

• David Law, BBC5 Live commentator and co-host of The Tennis Podcast: “Spare a thought for Naomi Osaka. Playing her hero, trying to win a first Slam, caught in the middle of all of this.”

• Christopher Clarey, New York Times tennis columnist: “This match may not be remembered this way but no one who follows tennis should forget how well Naomi Osaka played in her first Grand Slam final. Marvelous, poised, powerful performance.”