Saturday, September 8, 2018

Naomi Osaka defeats her idol and wins U.S. Open


Now I'm back
Sidewalk and pigeon
You look like a city
But you feel like a religion
To me
Laura Nyro, "New York Tendaberry

The U.S. Open has always been a mixed bag for Serena Williams. Unpleasant things have happened to her at the Open. I won't review these because fans know what they are, and also, because recorded accounts of them are filled with inadequate or incorrect information, which would take me pages to amplify and explain. But the result is that New York hasn't been a walk in Central Park for the six-time champion.

There was plenty of drama before the match even began. Williams was entering her second major final after giving birth to her daughter. Her opponent, Naomi Osaka, had burned through the draw, playing only one three-set match. Williams had long been Osaka's idol. It was as dramatic a setup for a major final as we could imagine.
And that would have been enough drama, thank you very much. But of course, it was only the beginning of what turned into a most unfortunate parade of incidents. What happened, in fact, was so unfortunate and so controversial, that I find myself unable to say too much about it.

And the past is a blue note
Inside me

Williams was cited for a coaching violation. Her coach, Patrick Mourataglou, was clearly coaching her from her box. This, of course, wasn't Williams' fault, but the rule is that a player gets a penalty warning for illegal coaching. Williams later broke her racket, and received a point penalty for that. Any additional infraction would result in a game penalty, and umpire Carlos Ramos gave her just that when she called him "a thief." Technically speaking, Ramos was within his rights to exact the penalty. What has many people so angry, though, is that umpire abuse--mainly practiced by ATP players--is routinely ignored by chair umpires.

It became a matter of context.

Both John McEnroe and Jimmy Connors had a history of saying very abusive things to chair umpires, and fans called their behavior "colorful" and "great theatre." Andre Agassi was very abusive to a lineswoman. More recently, David Ferrer was abusive to a chair umpire; in fact, he managed to insult all females, and he got away with it (and was hailed a sporting hero during this U.S. Open). Only Fabio Fognini was penalized for his atrocious behavior toward a chair umpire, and that penalty was significantly watered down.

During all of this horror, Naomi Osaka--a somewhat shy, sensitive young player--managed her emotions like a boss, not letting it affect her game. It's important to note that--even if none of the drama with the umpire had occurred--Osaka was controlling the match and very well would have won it, anyway.

New York tendaberry
True berry
I lost my eyes
In east wind skies
Here where I've cried
Where I've tried
Where God and the tendaberry rise

So Naomi Osaka, who hit sixteen winners and made fourteen unforced errors, prevailed as impressively in the final as she had in her previous six matches. Osaka is the real thing, and her improvement under the tutelage of coach Sascha Bajin has been dramatic. She played fearlessly, with great precision. She defeated her idol 6-2, 6-4, to claim her first major victory, and only her second tour victory.

The look on Osaka's face when she won, and during the trophy presentation, was not a look we want to see in a first-time (or any-time) champion. To her credit, Williams was very protective toward her opponent, beseeching the crowd to stop booing. I don't want to do any judging; I have respect for both the champion and the runner-up. I just wish this final had never happened. It was a strange trial by fire for Osaka, and she will have to sort it out as best she can.

In the meantime, Osaka is the first Japanese person in history to win a singles major. Next week, she enters the top 10 as number 7 in the world. We'll have to see if she continues to be a big stage player (a popular WTA trend) or whether she starts to make a dent in the regular WTA calendar.


jwr said...

The rulers of Tennis fudge everything. The time clock, coaching, code violations, drug penalties, etc., etc. Sometimes you get penalized, sometimes not. After a while it's worth considering the possibility that the arbitrariness of it all is by design. Not some grand conspiracy, just the native pettiness of small minds, working in concert. Which is why I doubt anything will change.

That said, Osaka has shown this year that she's the first player since the pre-2007 (i.e, pre-shoulder problems) Sharapova who can match Serena's fantastic wrists--the quality no one ever seems to talk about which allows Serena to, time and again, stay in improbable points, turn defense to offense and control her service games like no one else. And today, Naomi proved she, like Serena, can hold her nerve on the biggest stages under the most difficult cirucmstances as well. Just what I needed...ANOTHER player to follow! (And I really liked what she said in ESPN's post-match round table interview where she talked about not having to kill the ball all the time--we hear it a lot, but she just played a U.S. Open that proves it works!)

Nondisposable Johnny

Diane said...

Well said, as always, Johnny. There will always be a lot of arbitrary content in sports, but tennis seems to have more than most. 🙄
Naomi is one fast learner, isn’t she? Her transition game is stunning. I think she’s the real thing.