Naomi Osaka’s big day was blighted by all that came to pass at Flushing Meadows, goes the refrain. This argument indicts Serena Williams for stealing the thunder by literally thundering down on Carlos Ramos, a rigid, rulebook-enforcing referee. He clamped down on her coach illegally coaching her, she took umbrage at being asked not to cheat. She said “thief”, he said “game docked”. Losing composure, game, set and match, Serena would end up second. So, in effect, another big day was blighted — Serena’s.
Winning that final meant as much to her as to her opponent. She was chasing down Margaret Court’s numbers, at age 36, and as a year-old mother, coming off a complicated delivery. Osaka deserved a pleasant path to her maiden Grand Slam victory, but being in the finals means both are entitled to the right to try to win. Serena’s tempestuous path ought to, in no way, blight Osaka’s sensational start to greatness. The fault, then, lies not in the stars, but in the star-struck fans who cannot appreciate both the beauty of Osaka’s power-hitting game at 20 and Serena’s herculean effort that comes with wanting to win at 36. It’s impossible to pin down a sexist or racist intent on Ramos’s actions — he’s known to be equally unyielding on men. But intent apart, the effect impacted only one that night — Serena Williams, still looking for her major win post comeback.
The fault lies at the fans’ doorstep for demanding sinew-serrating excellence from the players’ bodies, but expecting them to remain sanitised of all emotion. We want our champions to be determined in chasing down every single ball at the baseline, but also be dignified to the extreme, when the sapping heat of the competition is a furnace triggering meltdowns. Serena felt hard done by, she threw an almighty tantrum, and churned up her emotional whirlpool in full public view. It matters not a jot how her behaviour is judged and scrutinised for days on end. And she owes no one an apology, save herself — for not being able to win that deeply desired match.