New York: The killer instinct that carried Japan’s Naomi Osaka to a first Grand Slam title evaporated as she hugged her idol Serena Williams after beating her in a controversial US Open final.
Osaka said it wasn’t the ire of the Arthur Ashe Stadium crowd — angered at penalties meted out to Williams — but just the realisation that she’d robbed the US great who inspired her career of a record-equalling 24th Grand Slam title.
“I know that she really wanted to have the 24th Grand Slam,” said Osaka, who choked up again herself trying to explain her feelings.
“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, 20, looked nothing like a kid as she took the court aiming to become Japan’s first Grand Slam winner.
Undaunted by the massive pro-Williams crowd — extra noisy with the Ashe stadium roof closed because of rain — she broke Williams twice for a quick 4-1 lead in the opening set, displaying the kind of powerful ground game and dominant serve that have made Williams herself a star.
She had locked up the first in style with a blistering service winner when Williams was incensed by a code violation warning for receiving coaching from her box in the second game of the second set.
Although Williams would take a 3-1 lead in the set, the accusation festered, and soon a violation for racket abuse cost her a point while a third for verbal abuse cost her a game.
“I didn’t know what was going on, I was just trying to focus. Since it was my first Grand Slam final, I did not want to get overwhelmed,” Osaka said.
“Serena came to the bench and told me she had a point penalty and when she got the game penalty I didn’t know that either.
“I was just trying to focus on myself at that time,” Osaka said.
A somewhat muted reaction to her history-making victory had nothing to do with the late-match chaos, Osaka said.
Kei Nishikori is the only other Japanese player to reach a Grand Slam final, and he couldn’t take the last step, falling to Marin Cilic in the 2014 US Open men’s final.
“To have a huge reaction isn’t really me in the first place,” she said. “It just still didn’t really feel that real.”
Osaka, who earned $3.8 million (3.29 million Euros) for the victory, said her next goal was a simple one: to win her next tournament in Tokyo.
Asked if she was prepared for the reception she’ll receive as the country’s first Grand Slam winner, Osaka said: “Apparently not, because people keep asking me that.”
Serena said she did not know her coach was giving her instructions and had “never cheated in her life” after her hopes of winning a 24th Grand Slam title ended in extraordinary scenes at the US Open on Saturday.
The American received three code violations, including a game penalty for verbal abuse, from chair umpire Carlos Ramos in the final, where she was beaten by Japan’s Naomi Osaka 6-2 6-4.
“If I’m honest I was coaching, I don’t think she looked at me,” Mouratoglou told ESPN. “Sascha was coaching every point too.” Out on court, an unsettled Williams protested her innocence, telling Ramos: “I don’t cheat to win. I’d rather lose. I’m just letting you know.” She added in her post-match news conference that she had asked Mouratoglou why he said he was coaching her.
“I just texted Patrick, like, ‘What is he talking about?’” Williams told reporters. “I’m trying to figure out why he would say that.” Williams continued protesting to Ramos during a changeover but returned to break Osaka’s serve to go 3-1 up in the second set.
But Osaka broke back in the next game and the American smashed her racket in frustration, earning a second code violation and a one-point deduction from Ramos.
The deduction enraged Williams and she screamed at Ramos at the next changeover, drawing the game penalty after she called him a thief.
“I have never cheated in my life,” she said. “I have a daughter and I stand for what’s right for her. I’ve never cheated, and you owe me an apology.
“You will never be on another court of mine as long as you live. Say it. Say you’re sorry.
“And you stole a point from me. You’re a thief.” Afterwards, Williams said Ramos had never taken a game from a man for calling him a thief and referenced Alize Cornet being given a code violation for changing her shirt on court earlier in the tournament as an another example of double standards within the game.
“I can’t sit here and say I wouldn’t say he’s a thief, because I thought he took a game from me,” she said. “But I’ve seen other men call other umpires several things.
“I’m here fighting for women’s rights and for women’s equality and for all kinds of stuff. For me to say ‘thief’ and for him to take a game, it made me feel like it was a sexist remark.
“He’s never taken a game from a man because they said ‘thief’. For me it blows my mind. But I’m going to continue to fight for women and to fight for us to have equal — like Cornet should be able to take off her shirt without getting a fine.
“This is outrageous.”