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Serena Williams’s bid for a 24th major title collapsed in a welter of tears, angry accusation and code violations – even featuring a rare game penalty – as a series of furious rows with tournament officials overshadowed the maiden victory of 20-year-old Naomi Osaka.
For the first time ever at the US Open, the trophy ceremony was drowned out by boos when compere Tom Rinaldi stood up to take charge. Williams then dissolved into tears as she tried to bring some positivity to what was a desperately disappointing way for Osaka to open her grand-slam account.
"I don’t want to be rude. She played well. Let’s make this the best moment we can, let’s not boo any more,” said Williams.
Then it was Osaka’s turn, and she looked more devastated than delighted. She even wound up apologising for having beaten the crowd’s favourite in scenes that surely have little precedent in this or any other sport.
Osaka had just become the first major-winner from Japan, defying a hugely partisan crowd to close out a 6-2, 6-4 victory in just 79 minutes. But it will be the hostile scenes shared by Williams and chair umpire Carlos Ramos that most people will remember from this tempestuous final.
It wasn’t just Ramos, either. Williams broke into tears for first time as she confronted tournament referee Brian Earley late in the second set. “You know my character,” she said, her voice cracking with emotion. “This is not right.
“To lose a game for saying that, it’s not fair. How many other men do things? There’s a lot of men out here who have said a lot of things. It’s because I am a woman, and that’s not right.” Williams also rounded on Donna Kelso, the supervisor for the Women’s Tennis Association, and told her “I’ve worked so hard to be in this position.”
This flashpoint came in response to the game penalty, which was the result of a third code violation during the match. The first had been handed out for coaching, after Ramos spotted Patrick Mouratoglou making hand signals from the Williams player’s box.
When the original violation was announced, Williams immediately charged up to Ramos to insist that she never takes coaching, and never cheats. The argument seemed to end there. But then, when she smashed a racket on being broken back for 3-3 in the second set, Ramos went by the book and gave her a point penalty.
Now Williams lost her temper – something that has happened twice before at the US Open. During the 2011 final, she accused chair umpire Eva Asderaki of being “a hater” and “ugly inside”.
And even before that, in 2009, her semi-final against Kim Clijsters ended in another point penalty after she told a lineswoman “If I could, I would take this ----ing ball and shove it down your ----ing throat.”
Last night, the major argument began with a reference to those earlier incidents. "Unbelievable, every time I play here, I have problems,” said Williams. “I did not get coaching, I don't cheat. You need to make an announcement. I have a daughter and I stand for what's right for her. You owe me an apology.
“For you to attack my character is something that is wrong,” Williams continued. “You will never ever, ever be in another final. You are a liar.” Then, when she called Ramos a “thief” for taking away a point from her, he gave her a code violation for verbal abuse, resulting in the game penalty that carried Osaka to 5-3 in the second set.
The players didn’t realise what had happened at first, so rare is this extreme sanction. Williams went to receive and Osaka to serve, and Ramos had to call them back to the chair to explain that Williams was actually going to have to serve again. This was the moment when Earley was called to the court for a lengthy argument.
Eventually Williams did restart the match, and did so with impressive aplomb to hold serve decisively. But she was still weeping at the changeover before Osaka stepped up, shrugging off all the controversy, and produced her own near-flawless service game. The way she handled the pressure and the turmoil of the whole occasion was quite spectacular, as was her tennis throughout. As for Ramos, he was not handed the usual souvenir trophy for invigilating a major final.
Later, Mouratoglou confirmed that he had been coaching Williams in an interview with broadcaster Pam Shriver, but insisted that everyone does it. He also suggested that the whole schemozzle could threaten Williams’s career going forward.
“I was coaching but I don’t think she looked at me,” said Mouratoglou afterwards. “I am honest, I was coaching, Sascha [Bajin, Osaka’s coach] was coaching the whole time too. This is one of the rules that is ruining tennis. She [Williams] will struggle to come back from this.”
Earlier, Jamie Murray had successfully defended his US Open mixed-doubles title yesterday in partnership with Bethanie Mattek-Sands. It was his fourth grand-slam title in mixed doubles, with his third different partner.
Patrick to blame?
A reminder that this was what started the whole chain of events off:
— thibnice10 (@thibnice10) September 8, 2018
Serena's coach Patrick Mouratoglou has since admitted that he was coaching his player, as per the tweet below.
Patrick Mouratoglou admits to @PamShriver that he was coaching, that all coaches coach against the rules at Slams (allowed on @WTA tour). Can understand that @serenawilliams was upset because she may not have seen signal. But 3rd violation for talking back to umpire was too harsh
— Richard Ingham Evans (@Ringham7) September 8, 2018
This probably wasn't how Osaka dreamed this moment
What a scene to start the trophy presentation: boos, Osaka in tears behind her visor, Serena puts her arm around her. pic.twitter.com/nviG83cjJR
— Nick Zaccardi (@nzaccardi) September 8, 2018
The bare facts are these
Williams was given a game penalty for calling the umpire "a liar" and "a thief."
This was after the rant
Serena pleading with tournament officials after being given the game penalty. "This is not right, this is not fair."
Serena Williams after getting penalized because she called judge a "thief" "There;s a a lot of men who have said things and because they are men nothing happens to them"....pic.twitter.com/Vr9WTspqFw
— gifdsports (@gifdsports) September 8, 2018
Osaka can barely raise a smile
Such a shame that the match ended in those circumstances. These photos are going to be wonderfully awkward.
— US Open Tennis (@usopen) September 8, 2018
Big cheers for Osaka as she is introduced as the new champion
Osaka would have been dreading doing this speech as it was, let along after all of this.
Fighting back tears, she says: "I know that everyone was cheering for her, and I'm sorry it had to end like this.
"I just want to say thanks for watching the match.
"My mum has sacrificed a lot for me, and it means a lot for her to come and watch my matches. She doesn't usually come to them. All that we're missing is my dad but he physically doesn't watch my matches. He just walks around.
"It was also my dream to play Serena in the US Open final, and I'm really glad I was able to do that. I'm grateful I was able to play with you. Thank you."
Osaka is handed the trophy, which she nearly drops and sheepishly lifts aloft, as her coach Sascha Bajin breaks into tears.
Serena proudly holds aloft her runners-up trophy
More deafening cheers.
Huge cheers for Serena
As she begins her runners-up speech.
Her voice breaking into tears, Serena says: "I don't want to do questions. She played well, this is her first grand slam.
I know you guys were rooting but let's make this a great moment. Let's not boo. Let's be positive. Congratulations Naomi. No more booing. Thank you to my team, you guys are amazing. Thank you to the crowd, you guys really are the best in the world. I really hope to play here again. It's been tough here for me but thank you so much."
Now it's time for the trophy presentation
This is so awkward! Osaka looks like a teenager at a family reunion. Boos ring around the Arthur Ashe Stadium as the presentation begins. Osaka is in tears, as Williams tries to comfort her.
The rant that inspired that game penalty
“You are attacking my character.”
“You are a liar.”
“You are never going to be on my court ever again.”
“Say you are sorry.” “How dare you insinuate I was cheating.”
“You stole a point from me. You are a thief too.”
A new champ
What an achievement for Osaka - it's a shame that it'll be overshadowed by Serena's rants at the umpire, but ultimately all that matters for her is that she is the US Open champion.
The aggro continues
A warm embrace between the players at the end of the match, before Williams refuses to shake Ramos's hand and says: "you owe me an apology".
Game, set and match! Osaka defeats Williams 6-4, 6-2
Forehand winner from Osaka gets her off to the perfect start at 15-0. She's three points from the title. Williams levels the game at 15-15 with a forehand winner of her own, but an Osaka service winner has us at 30-15. Osaka's mum is almost in tears in the stands. An ace out wide then takes Osaka to two championship points at 40-15. Serena saves the first with a backhand winner up the line. How's your nerve Naomi? Not bad at all! A service winner secures Osaka the win.
Game, set and match! Naomi Osaka is the 2018 US Open champion!
Williams 2-6, 4-5 Osaka* (*next server)
Williams steadies herself and holds to love. But she's in tears as she vents to a tournament official. "I've worked so hard to be in this position," she says.
Osaka will come out to serve for the match. What on earth must be going through her mind?
— robertmarawa (@robertmarawa) September 8, 2018
The game penalty means it's Williams* 2-6, 3-5 Osaka (*next server)
So Osaka is given the service game, and Williams will now serve to stay in the match. I've never seen anything like this.
"This is not right. It's because I'm a woman. This happens to me every time I play here. It's not right. It's not fair."
Williams is given a game penalty for verbal abuse!
Oh my word, this is extraordinary. She's called the tournament referee onto the court.
Williams continues to rant during the change of ends
"For you to attack my character is wrong. You owe me an apology. You will never be on a court with me as long as you live. You are the liar.You owe me an apology. Say it. Say you're sorry.
"How dare you insinuate that I was cheating? You stole a point from me. You're a thief too. "
Williams* 2-6, 3-4 Osaka (*next server) - Osaka breaks!
Williams is teetering on the brink here. A couple of errors have us at 30-30, and an Osaka backhand winner makes it 30-40 and break point. Osaka takes it with a forehand winner up the line!
Osaka is a set and a break up!
Williams* 2-6, 3-3 Osaka (*next server)
What poise from Osaka. After Williams ends her tirade at Ramos, she delivers three first serves - the last one an ace - and holds to love. Incredible focus for a 20-year-old playing in their first slam final.
Williams is absolutely incandescent when she realises that she's been given a point penalty. She strides to Carlos Ramos and tells him: "Every time I play here, I have problems. I did not have coaching, I don't cheat. You need to make an announcement. I have a daughter and I stand for what's right. You owe me an apology."
Wow, that was extraordinary. Ramos remains unmoved.
Williams 2-6, 3-2 Osaka* (*next server) - Osaka breaks back
My word, Serena chucks in consecutive double faults and Osaka has an immediate break back point at 30-40. And she takes it as Williams nets a backhand!
Williams then smashes her racket to smithereens and is given a code violation warning. Because of the earlier coaching warning, it means she's given a point penalty and will start the next game down 15-0.
This match is twisting and turning like a Call of Duty episode at the moment. No idea what's coming next.
Williams* 2-6, 3-1 Osaka (*next server) - Williams breaks
Osaka is fighting fire with fire here - letting out a Serena-like 'caaaaam on' after an ace out wide for 15-30. A brilliant forehand winner then makes it 30-30, but a backhand into the net makes it break point Williams at 30-40. The crowd is going nuts - this is such a big test of Osaka's character. And what a response! She steals a 19-shot rally with a stupendous forehand winner up the line. Incredible nerve from the youngster. A big serve takes Osaka to game point, but a couple of errors have Williams up break point again. Another amazing response from Osaka, as she saves it with an ace out wide. A third break point then comes and goes after a well-placed Osaka serve up the T. Williams then forces a fourth break point with a quite brilliant backhand return winner. Will Osaka finally crack? Yes! She pushed a backhand long and Williams has the break!
The crowd are on their feet as Williams breaks for the first time tonight. Have we just seen a major turning point in this match?
Williams 2-6, 2-1 Osaka* (*next server) - Williams saves a break point and holds
On the TV replay, it looked as though Patrick Mouratoglou was using signals to suggest Williams should get to the net more.
Williams appears in control of the game at 30-15, but a couple of errors present Osaka with a break point at 30-40. Can she take it? No! Williams saves it with a steady volley. The crowd erupts - they're desperately trying to lift Serena - and they're then off their feet as Williams wins the next point with a sensational back-spin drop shot. Wow, that's one of the best drop shots I've ever seen her play. Osaka then nets a forehand and Williams holds. It feels like these are big moments in the match, and Williams still looks furious after that coaching violation. She's continuing the argument with Carlos Ramos at the change of ends. "I don't cheat," Williams says.
— Ashish TV Slams (@ashishtvslams) September 8, 2018
Williams* 2-6, 1-1 Osaka (*next server)
Have we just witnessed a major turning point here? Osaka looks to be cruising to a hold at 40-15 when Williams is given a warning for coaching. She is absolutely raging and marches to the chair umpire Carlos Ramos to tell him: "I don't cheat to win, I'd rather lose."
A fired-up Williams wins the next point with a backhand winner, before Osaka steadies herself to win the game with a service winner. But maybe that will get Williams going out here. She looks seriously pumped up.
Incidentally, how's this for a stat?
Naomi Osaka is one hell of a frontrunner: 31-0 when winning the first set this year. #usopen
— Ben Rothenberg (@BenRothenberg) September 8, 2018
Williams 2-6, 1-0 Osaka* (*next server)
Osaka looked completely immune to Williams' attempts intimidation in that first set. She even smiled knowingly after Serena's first roar.
Williams really needs a good start to the second set here, and she gets it when a strong serve out wide secures a comfortable hold to 15.
Williams* 2-6 Osaka (*next server) - Game and first set Osaka
A couple of unreturned serves steer Osaka to 30-15, and a missed Williams return makes it 40-15 - two set points. A body serve completely handcuffs Williams on the first one, and that is the first set for Osaka.
After 34 minutes, Osaka is a set away from winning the US Open. How will Williams respond to this? She's being completely outplayed.
Williams 2-5 Osaka* (*next server)
Wow, Williams is really struggling. A missed forehand and a fourth double fault puts Osaka two points from the set at 0-30. Serena battles back though, reeling off the next four points to dig out the hold.
Osaka will serve for the first set.
Williams* 1-5 Osaka (*next server) - Osaka saves two break points and holds
Williams is angry, and she's not going to take this lying down. A superb forehand return brings up 0-15, before Osaka responds with a stunning running forehand pass for 15-15. Serena then lets out her first bloodcurdling roar of the night after smacking away an 87mph forehand winner up the line. How will Osaka respond to Williams entering full-on intimidation mode? A good serve levels the game at 30-30, but Serena flicks away a drive volley to earn her first break point of the match. Great response from Osaka though - a 117mph ace down the T. Clutch serving from the youngster. Moments later Osaka saves a second break point when Williams nets a backhand. Serena is getting louder and louder - she's stressed out there. And her mood gets even worse as Osaka slams down a couple of big serves to complete the hold.
Osaka is absolutely in the zone - she looks like she's having a casual hit at her local park rather than taking on the greatest player of all time in the biggest match of her life.
— US Open Tennis (@usopen) September 8, 2018
Williams 1-4 Osaka* (*next server) - Osaka breaks
All is not well for Serena. A third double fault gives Osaka the sniff of another break at 30-30, before a miscued Williams forehand gifts her opponent a break point at 30-40. And Osaka takes it when Williams nets a backhand!
Osaka is absolutely bossing the baseline exchanges, winning around 70 per cent of the points from the back of the court. She struts to the chair, while Serena looks like she could throttle someone.
Osaka up the double break.
Williams* 1-3 Osaka (*next server)
Osaka has been so composed so far - no real emotion, all very measured. She's hitting her backhand beautifully and after winning a couple of points off that wing nails an ace out wide to complete a hold to 15. Her mother implores the crowd to make some noise. Shades of the giant-killing Roberta Vinci on this very court against Serena three years ago.
Williams 1-2 Osaka* (*next server) - Osaka breaks
Superb rally ends with Williams netting a forehand for 30-30 after Osaka got the upper hand with a skidding backhand crosscourt. Williams then sprays a forehand long and it's break point Osaka at 30-40. And would you believe it, Williams double faults!
Osaka has the early break.
Williams* 1-1 Osaka (*next server)
Testing moments for Osaka. A netted backhand and a double fault has her down 0-30. Osaka then forces two missed backhands from Serena for 30-30. A belting forehand up the line followed by a well-placed winner crosscourt seals the hold for Osaka. Great response from Osaka after losing the first two points.
Jim Courier describes the groundstrokes so far as "saucy".
Williams 1-0 Osaka* (*next server)
First point goes to Osaka as Williams pushes a backhand long. Serena then double faults for 0-30 - an early chance for Osaka. Big response from Williams - an 89mph forehand winner up the line and an ace out wide has us at 30-30. Serve-forehand winner combo from Serena then brings up 40-30, but Osaka forces deuce with a penetrating backhand return crosscourt. No matter, an ace and a volley winner wrap up the hold for Williams.
High-quality, entertaining first game.
Huge screams of encouragement for Serena as the players leave their seats and head to the baseline.
The 2018 US Open final is about to get under way.
Williams to serve first.
— US Open Tennis (@usopen) September 8, 2018
Serena won the toss, which was overseen by Billie Jean King, and elected to serve. She looks extremely focused, as Osaka tries to keep her cool.
They're now warming up and we'll get going in a few minutes.
— US Open Tennis (@usopen) September 8, 2018
Thank goodness this is over
Osaka speaks pre-match
"I’ve been watching her play Grand Slam Finals since I was a kid. I’m just honored."
Ok, here we go
The players are out. Osaka first to very warm applause. Followed by "From the United States...Serena Williams". Rapturous applause, mood lighting, pumping music - we'll be under way shortly.
My sentiments exactly
Whyyyyyy is this match not happening yet,
— Hannah Wilks (@newballsplease) September 8, 2018
Now here's a celeb we all care out
Pierce Brosnan is in the house! Oh yeah.
A huge American flag is draped on the court, while someone I don't recognise (Deborah Cox apparently) belts out the American national anthem.
Daniela Hantuchova thinks having Serena's former hitting partner Sascha Bajin in her camp could really help Osaka tonight. It'll be interesting to see how Osaka approaches this, and indeed whether Williams will repeat her net-rushing tactics from the semi-final against Anastasija Sevastova.
Here's Naomi not long ago
Also pictured here is Sascha Bajin, who was Williams' hitting partner for eight years.
Bajin said yesterday of Osaka: "She looks great right now. And if you look at her record in Grand Slams, she’s definitely a different player, particularly in a Grand Slam final, than she is in Miami or any other tournament. So I know Serena’s not going to give it to us, and I hope for Naomi that it’s going to be a good match."
The USTA has just issued a press release saying the roof will be closed for this match in anticipation of rain. Not really sure who that will favour more - both will benefit in theory from quicker, windless conditions.
The great and the good
Vogue editor Anna Wintour, singer Alicia Keys and comedian Kevin Hart are among the celebs in attendance tonight. Meryl Streep is also expected to attend. Do we care? I can't really decide.
Really feel like the mental side of this could go either way for Osaka. On one hand she's such a unique, quirky character that she may feel weirdly immune from nerves, or she could be overawed by facing a player she described as her "idol" just two days ago.
Really hope for the sake of the match that she's able to hold it together. Two of the three women's grand-slam finals this year have been spectacular. Here's hoping it becomes three out of four tonight.
— US Open Tennis (@usopen) September 7, 2018
BIllie Jean King's verdict
The legendary American says on Amazon Prime says she expects Williams to win tonight but that Osaka is a superstar of the future.
Head to head
The only time these two have met was that 6-3, 6-2 thumping Osaka dished out in Miami in March.
Prior to this tournament, Osaka had not even been beyond the fourth round of a slam.
Young at heart
Adding to the sense that this is the veteran champion against the young pretender, the 16-year age gap between the two players is the second biggest in a major final in the Open era, surpassed only by the 1991 US Open, when 17-year-old Monica Seles defeated 34-year-old Martina Navratilova.
When Osaka was born in October 1997, Williams had already been a pro for two years.
If Naomi Osaka is to lose tonight against Serena Williams, she'll only have herself to blame.
They say you should be wary of making a champion like Williams angry, but that was precisely what Osaka - the 20-year-old 'next big thing' - did when the pair met in Miami back in March.
Williams, playing in only her second tournament since returning from maternity leave, suffered a humiliating 6-3, 6-2 defeat. She was so enraged that she skipped her post-match press commitments - incurring a fine by doing so - and drove home.
“I played obscenity,” she told the New York Times, avoiding swearing. “I feel like I set my expectations incredibly high, and I feel like after Miami, I wanted to get more, not realistic expectations, but more reasonable expectations for me. And so I took some time off and then started training like a lot, lot, lot, lot, lot, lot, lot, lot, lot, lot.”
Fast-forward six months, and Williams' grueling fitness regime is paying dividends. Having reached the Wimbledon final in July, she has flown through the US Open draw like a high-speed New York subway train. Only Kaia Kanepi has taken a set off Williams, whose matches have lasted on average just 76 minutes.
That said, Williams' progress has been positively slovenly compared to tonight's opponent - the endearingly shy and awkward Osaka.
Competing in her first grand slam final, Osaka's matches have taken barely over an hour on average, and at one stage she won 22 consecutive games.
There is no doubting that Osaka has the firepower to overwhelm Williams tonight; the question is whether she has the nerve. Osaka grew up in Florida idolising tonight's opponent, but must put that and the Williams intimidation factor aside if she's to pull off a famous win.
The way Osaka thrashed home favourite Madison Keys in the semi-final bodes well, especially the manner in which she fended off all 13 of the break points she faced.
“She just held her nerve so well,” said an impressed Martina Navratilova. “Her game was clean, very clean. What really impressed me against Keys was that she was just on balance and really picked all the right shots. She had a game plan and executed it. If I were coaching her, I’d be on cloud nine.”
As it turns out Osaka's coach is Sascha Bajin, who was Williams' hitting partner for eight years. His inside knowledge could be vital.
Williams though comes into the match as the favourite, with a chance to tie Margaret Court's grand-slam record of 24 titles and pick up a major title just a year after giving birth to her daughter Olympia.
Even after all that she has done in a glittering career, pulling off the victory tonight would surely be Williams' - and arguably any tennis player's - greatest achievement ever.
She and Osaka will take to the court at 9pm UK time, with play getting under way shortly after.