If you haven’t heard, 20-year-old Naomi Osaka defeated Serena Williams in straight sets on Saturday to capture the 2018 US Open.
Williams lost her composure in the second set after she received three code violations from umpire Carlos Ramos.
Across the interweb, there have been so many bad takes on this match that it’s as if a tone-deaf brass band invaded Abbey Road studios. I’ll try my utmost to stay in key here.
Let’s take a closer look at what transpired that night in New York and see whether the punishment handed out was fair.
Williams entered the match as favourite having already lifted 23 majors in her glittering career.
Meanwhile, the 20-year-old Osaka was in the first grand slam final of her career.
A win for the American would tie her with Margaret Court on 24 singles majors, the most won in the Open Era.
The First Set
This set was all about the rising Japanese star. The American survived a shaky opening service game as Osaka comfortably traded with her idol from the baseline.
Calamity struck Williams in the third game as she forfeited serve with a double fault. The 36-year-old had won 89% of her service games en route to the final, so a break this early came as a shock.
Osaka then held serve and broke Williams for a second time to make it 4-1.
To add to her service woes, Serena couldn’t get enough returns in play and the Japanese star closed out the set 6-2.
At this stage, Williams had only made 38% of first serves and lost the majority of points on her second delivery. Unforced errors leaked from her racquet as the powerful, athletic and focused Osaka dominated. There looked to be only one winner.
The Second Set
Williams began the second set with a solid hold of serve, but the next game unleashed a series of events that eventually overwhelmed the greatest women’s player of them all.
First Code Violation: Coaching
At 30-15 on Osaka’s serve, Williams was slow to move out to a forehand. Her coach Patrick Mouratoglu, seated in the player box, used his hands to communicate some coaching advice to her.
It’s unclear whether his actions registered with Williams, but they certainly caught the umpire’s attention.
“Code violation: coaching. Warning Mrs Williams”, Carlos Ramos announced to the crowd.
Williams walked over to Ramos and cooly defended herself. She finished with a line that’s a meme-in-waiting: “I don’t cheat to win. I’d rather lose!”.
There’s no blame here for Serena, Patrick should not have played charades so blatantly. The umpire’s warning was fair and merely constituted a telling off.
Second Code Violation: Racquet Abuse
Williams moved on and inspired by a raucous New York crowd, broke Osaka after an entertaining game. She served at 3-1 and had the opportunity to take control of the second set.
In the pivotal fifth game, a pair of decent serves were bookended by a return winner from Osaka and a double fault. At 30-30, the young challenger dug in and Williams buckled.
A second double fault followed. 30-40. Then came a backhand into the net. Game Osaka. Commence destruction of the offending racquet.
“Code violation: racquet abuse. Point penalty Mrs. Williams”, said Ramos.
This was the most straightforward infraction. Every player gets a code violation when they smash their racquet, particularly if the frame is broken. If it’s a first offence, the player receives a warning. If it’s the second, as in Serena’s case, the umpire will subtract a point from the offending player.
Williams was clearly not enthusiastic about the second sanction and her composure started to falter.
Third Code Violation: Verbal Abuse
Midway through the second set, Williams’ centre couldn’t hold serve. Feeling aggrieved at the punishment handed out by Carlos Ramos, and outhit by a player 16 years her junior, the 36-year-old lashed out at the next changeover.
“For you to attack my character. Something is wrong” we could hear Williams say to Ramos. Other nuggets included “You owe me an apology” and “You are a liar”.
Ramos sat there motionless for the most part, probably hoping that Williams would release her frustration and reset. He called time and the frazzled former champion uttered a few more words while heading for the court.
“You stole a point from me. You’re a thief too,” she told him.
“Code violation: verbal abuse. Game penalty Mrs Williams,” he replied.
It seems that Carlos had heard just about enough from Williams. Umpires have been called every name imaginable and I’m sure each reader will have thoughts on whether “liar” and “thief” are caustic enough to warrant a code violation. However, the rule book for Grand Slams has clear rules on verbal abuse that attacks the integrity of officials:
“…verbal abuse is defined as a statement about an official, opponent, sponsor, spectator or other person that implies dishonesty or is derogatory, insulting or otherwise abusive.” the guide book states.
From that definition, it’s clear that Williams went over the line and could be punished. As it was her third code violation, the umpire followed the rules and imposed a game penalty on the former no.1 leaving her 3-5 down in the set.
A Shoddy End
From there, the match turned into farce. Williams demanded the tournament referee come to court and she pleaded her innocence once again. However, with the umpire’s decision final, there was little that Brian Earley could do for her.
Williams held again to force Osaka to serve it out. The Japanese clinched the championship with an unreturned delivery out wide that flummoxed her opponent.
To her credit, Williams immediately embraced the victor and later halted the crowd from booing during the trophy ceremony. That said, the American must wonder how she let herself get so distracted by a simple coaching violation. And with two violations under her belt, why did she goad the umpire by calling him a thief and a liar?
In the end, Serena’s hunt for no.24 goes on, but Naomi’s search for no.1 is complete.
Given the way the 20-year-old stormed to her first major, it’s very likely that she will soon have the chance to take home a second grand slam.
Let’s hope that that championship match will be purely about the tennis.