The Associated PressNEW YORK (AP) — Naomi Osaka walked to the net, the excitement of being a Grand Slam champion mixed with a bit of sadness.
She grew up rooting for Serena Williams, even did a report on her way back in third grade. Her dream was to play her idol at the U.S. Open.
So when she had actually done it, beating Williams 6-2, 6-4 on Saturday night to become the first Grand Slam singles champion from Japan, why was it so difficult?
“Because I know that, like, she really wanted to have the 24th Grand Slam, right?” Osaka said. “Everyone knows this. It’s on the commercials, it’s everywhere.
“When I step onto the court, I feel like a different person, right? I’m not a Serena fan. I’m just a tennis player playing another tennis player. But then when I hugged her at the net ... I felt like a little kid again.”
Osaka teared up as she was finishing her answer, still overwhelmed as she juggled the idea of her winning and Williams losing.
Though her nerves on the tennis court don’t show it, it was a reminder of just how youthful the 20-year-old Osaka is. Not since Maria Sharapova was 19 in 2006 has the U.S. Open had a younger women’s champion.
The way Williams lost, of course, was what stood out most in the match. The arguments with chair umpire Carlos Ramos and the three code violations — one that gave Osaka a game for a 5-3 lead in the second set when Williams was trying to rally — will be what was most remembered.
But not for Osaka, who claimed to not even hear the interactions between Williams and Ramos. What will stay with her is the hug at the net afterward, and Williams’ kind words during the trophy presentation, when she asked a booing crowd to focus its intention on Osaka’s moment.
“So for me, I’m always going to remember the Serena that I love,” Osaka said. “It doesn’t change anything for me. She was really nice to me, like, at the net and on the podium. I don’t really see what would change.”
Osaka was nervous Saturday, making a few phone calls to her sister in Paris to calm her down. Even during the match, whenever she was faced with a tough spot, she kept telling herself to try to do what Williams would do.
Williams was certainly impressed.
“She was so focused,” the 36-year-old Williams said. “I think, you know, whenever I had a break point, she came up with some great serve. Honestly, there’s a lot I can learn from her from this match. I hope to learn a lot from that.”
It was that way throughout the tournament for Osaka, who won the second title of her career. She was mostly dominant, dropping only one set in her seven matches, and she saved 5 of 6 break points against Williams after erasing all 13 in the semifinals against Madison Keys.
That’s the kind of toughness Williams has so often shown in winning 23 Grand Slam singles titles, one shy of the record. It’s one of the things Osaka always admired about Williams, made her choose her as the topic of that report years ago.
“I colored it and everything,” Osaka said. “I said, ‘I want to be like her.’”
On Saturday, she was better.
Serena slapped with fines
Meanwhile, Williams was fined a total of $17,000 for three code violations during her loss.
On Sunday, a day after the match, the tournament referee’s office docked Williams $10,000 for “verbal abuse” of Ramos, $4,000 for being warned for coaching, and $3,000 for breaking her racket.
The money comes out of her prize money of $1.85 million as runner-up.
In the second set’s second game, Ramos warned Williams for getting coaching, which is against the rules in Grand Slam matches. She briefly disputed that ruling, saying cheating “is the one thing I’ve never done, ever” — although afterward, her coach, Patrick Mouratoglou, acknowledged he was trying to send Williams a signal.
A few games later, Williams received another warning, this time for smashing her racket, and that second violation automatically cost her a point, leading to more arguing. Eventually, Williams called Ramos “a thief,” drawing the third violation for “verbal abuse” — and costing her a game, putting Osaka ahead 5-3.
“I have never cheated in my life!” Williams told Ramos. “You owe me an apology.”
WTA seeks equal treatment
The WTA is calling for equal treatment of all tennis players and coaching to be allowed across the sport in the aftermath of the U.S. Open final.
Williams and critics inside and outside of tennis argued that she wasn’t treated the same as some male players.
The women’s pro tour agreed.
“The WTA believes that there should be no difference in the standards of tolerance provided to the emotions expressed by men vs. women and is committed to working with the sport to ensure that all players are treated the same. We do not believe that this was done last night,” CEO Steve Simon said in a statement.
Men’s champion Novak Djokovic said he thought Ramos should not have pushed Williams so hard.
“Just maybe changed — not maybe, but he did change the course of the match,” Djokovic said. “Was, in my opinion, maybe unnecessary. We all go through our emotions, especially when you’re fighting for a Grand Slam trophy.”
But he disagreed with Simon that men and women are treated differently.
“I don’t see things as Mr. Simon does. I really don’t,” Djokovic said. “I think men and women are, you know, treated in this way or the other way depending on the situation. It’s hard to generalize things, really. I don’t see it’s necessary really to debate that.”Speech