Serena Williams penned a vulnerable personal essay for Harper’s Bazaar’s August 2019 issue on how she came to terms with the aftermath of her devastating loss in the 2018 U.S. Open final — by writing an apology letter to Naomi Osaka, her opponent and the winner of the controversial match.
While the 2018 U.S. Open Final face-off between the 23-time Grand Slam champion and the 20-year-old rising star should have been a triumphant moment for the two women, the tense match left both with tears of anguish and frustration.
After the match that sparked widespread controversy over what behavior is accepted on the court by male and female tennis players, Williams reveals she was “cut deeply” and took a long time to heal.
“I felt defeated and disrespected by a sport that I love,” Williams wrote.
"I was hurt—cut deeply...for some reason I couldn’t shake the feeling that this was about so much more than just me."— Harper's Bazaar (@harpersbazaarus) July 9, 2019
—@serenawilliams bares all for our airbrush-free August issue, and opens up about last year’s controversy at the U.S. Open: https://t.co/1bnucoZT7H pic.twitter.com/uUvfVXETVK
Nearly a year after the loss that Williams says left her sleepless and unable to pick up a tennis racket, and that the only thing that helped her “find peace” was writing an apology letter to Osaka.
“Days passed, and I still couldn’t find peace. I started seeing a therapist,” Williams writes. “Finally I realized that there was only one way for me to move forward. It was time for me to apologize to the person who deserved it the most.”
In the heartfelt note, Williams said she wrote how “truly sorry” she was for the aftermath of her heated exchange with the referee, and and would “love the change to live that moment over again.”
“I thought I was doing the right thing in sticking up for myself. But I had no idea the media would pit us against each other,” Williams says she wrote in her letter to Osaka.
“I would never, ever want the light to shine away from another female, specifically another black female athlete.”
Williams ended the apology on a sweeter note saying how proud she was of Osaka and wished the young tennis star success in her career on the tennis court.
In the essay, Williams says that the source of her anguish following the game was about more than just what she believed to be sexist treatment from the referee of their match. What “broke her heart” was that she felt she was the joy of the historic moment for the first Haitian-Japanese player was mired by the controversy that played out with the match referee.
“Not only was a game taken from me but a defining, triumphant moment was taken from another player, something she should remember as one of the happiest memories in her long and successful career,” Williams revealed in the essay. “My heart broke.”
Despite her guilt for how the aftermath of their match unfolded, Osaka’s reply to Williams’ apology made was nothing short of inspiring to the 23-time grand slam champion.
“People can misunderstand anger for strength because they can’t differentiate between the two,’ [Osaka] said graciously,” Williams says Osaka wrote to her. “No one has stood up for themselves the way you have and you need to continue trailblazing.”
After Osaka’s heartfelt response, Williams said she became motivated to up to pick up her racket and continue to speak out about the injustices that she’s faced throughout her career both on and off the court.
“Growing up as the youngest of five girls, I learned that I had to fight for everything I wanted. And I won’t ever stop raising my voice against injustice,” Williams wrote,
adding that she’s continued to stand strong despite being booed from a stadium, shamed for her body and being paid unfairly because of her sex.
“In short, it’s never been easy,” Williams reveals. “But then I think of the next girl who is going to come along who looks like me, and I hope, ‘Maybe, just maybe, my voice will help her.’”
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