Osaka, 20, pictured a competitive match and drama in a different form, but none like Saturday night. For better or worse, we’ll remember Williams’ outburst.
It landed her $17,000 in fines for receiving hand signals defined as illegal coaching, racket smashing and verbal abuse, the latter issued by umpire Carlos Ramos after Williams, 36, called him a “thief,” for taking away a point, and subsequently a game, uplifting a 4-3 Osaka advantage to 5-3 in the second set after Osaka won the opener 6-2.
“Umm,” began a nervous Osaka, addressing Arthur Ashe Stadium following the victory, visibly in tears, her voice caught in her throat.
“I know that everyone was cheering for her [Williams], I’m sorry it had to end like this,” she continued, prompting a collective “aww” from a regretful audience – who had been jeering the ceremony’s opening moments – followed by rounds of applause.
Williams has since cried sexism by Ramos and other officials, indicating that her male counterparts wouldn’t receive such repercussions that could’ve possibly decided a match during the height of a Grand Slam final.
Ramos cried foul play, abiding by, in his mind, the rules of the game, but in doing so penalizing Williams at the height of world-class competition.
Osaka just cried, but for different reasons, not knowing what to make of the situation.
“I didn’t really hear anything because I had my back turned, so I didn’t really know there was anything going on at the moment,” she said as Williams and Ramos had their spat. “The crowd was really noisy so I really didn’t hear it. When I turned around it was 5-3, so I was a little bit confused.”
And while the majority will pick sides between Williams and Ramos regarding their actions from Saturday, Osaka’s victory comes at a time where America is toxically divisive, more so today than in recent years.
Her background is a conundrum to some. She was born in Osaka, Japan, to an Asian mother and Haitian father, Leonard Francois, and moved to Florida at three years old, with a stint living on Long Island.
In a city like New York, Osaka became easy to root for, except on that night.
Williams is Osaka’s idol, and in many respects, a driving reason she’s gotten to this point. The events of Saturday night had no effect on Osaka’s unwavering love for the possible greatest of all-time, either.
Williams’ portion of the post-match Arthur Ashe address didn’t hurt.
“She [Osaka] played well and this is her first Grand Slam,” Williams said, urging fans to stop booing during the ceremony, which they did.
“I know you guys were here rooting, and I was rooting, too, but let’s make this the best moment we can and we’ll get through it,” she said. “Let’s give everyone the credit where credit’s due. Let’s not boo anymore, we’re going to get through this and let’s be positive. Congratulations, Naomi!”
So after years and years of hard work, culminating in a Grand Slam Title at the age of 20, knocking off her favorite tennis player ever, why the apology?
“Because I know that she really wants to have that 24th Grand Slam, right?” Osaka said after a long pause at the press conference later that night. “Everyone knows this, it’s on the commercials, it’s everywhere. When I step onto the court, I feel like a different person. 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,” she continued through the cracking of her voice before offering another apology, followed by 10 seconds of silence as the press watched Osaka cover her face with her left hand as more tears fought through.
And then she did it again through the trembling of her voice.
“Anyway, when I hugged her at the net, I felt like a little kid again,” she said. “Sorry.”
When she was in third grade, Osaka had looked up to Williams, then already one of the best players in the world, putting together an entire report on her idol complete with the confession, “I want to be like her.”
On Saturday, she wasn’t. She was better.
Maybe one day, she will fully appreciate what she just accomplished.