US Open 2018 – “Hottest” Grand Slam

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Naomi Osaka & Novak Djokovic, 2018 US Open Champs

The 2018 US Open was filled with drama and triumphs. From the excruciating heat to a chair umpire leaving his chair to give a player a pep talk during a match to the results in the Women’s final, I’m pretty sure we were all glued to the TV. Let’s start out by congratulating both Naomi Osaka and Novak Djokovic on their hard-fought roads to victory.

Novak Djokavic

This was Djokovic’s second grand slam final in a row (Wimbledon). Keep in mind that he recently returned from surgery and this was supposed to be his come back year. What a come back indeed! Capturing the title in Wimbledon, then the warm up tournament in Cincinnati, and now the US Open, I think it’s safe to say that he has impressed even his biggest doubters. There were times where you thought Novak was going to collapse on the court and just retire from heat exhaustion. It was incredible to see him fight through the elements and outlast every opponent he faced to bring home is 14th grand slam title, tying Pete Sampras for 3rd most (behind Nadal’s 17 and Federer’s 20). Bravo Djokovic!

Naomi Osaka (Serena Williams)

US Open Tennis Tournament 2018
Osaka with Serena at the Podium – 2018 US Open

Now onto the most talked about women’s finals in US Open history. First off, I wanted to let this sit for a while before chiming in with opinions. Congrats to Naomi Osaka and Serena Williams. Naomi, at the age of 20, winning her first grand slam finals in a year where she had already defeated Serena Williams at the Bank of the West tournament en route to the trophy.

Serena has also been very impressive in 2018 with her return to tennis after giving birth to a very cute baby girl, Alexis Olympia Ohanian, Jr. Most parents take months off to care for their child after birth but she was motivated to come back and to be dominant sooner than most would expect. She fought through emotions, physical and health limitations, as well as a women’s tennis field now filled with fiercer and better competition. She was able to make it to the finals at Wimbledon and now the US Open (finishing runner-up at both).

While the path to the finals were different for both Naomi and Serena, nobody expected what had happened to transpire. Naomi was super focused and got the finals with almost no hiccups while Serena had a few tougher matches and had to defeat her sister Venus to get there. It was set up to be a great match, Osaka battling her idol Serena Williams.

Naomi came out impressive, fighting her nerves and dominating Serena from the jump. If you were watching throughout these past two weeks, it was the same Osaka who had captured our attention. Serena looked out-matched but the crowd still had her back. Naomi took the first set, 6-2.

Moving onto the second set, we were able to draw the conclusion that Osaka was going to be crowned champ barring any melt downs. Naomi was laser focused like a robot, suppressing all of her stress and anxiety facing her life long hero. She looked like the vet out there with all the answers, coming back stronger after an error and resetting quickly to not show weakness.

The controversy starts here. Serena, looking out matched, was issued a warning and coaching penalty. For those who aren’t familiar with the rules, the chair umpire has the right to penalize a player if he/she spots their coach offering any sort of help. In this case, chair umpire Carlos Ramos spotted Serena’s coach Patrick Mouratoglou sending her hand signals to approach the net more. Keep in mind, we as spectators were only able to see this when ESPN replayed the box area where Mouratoglou was seated. It didn’t appear that Serena was looking in that direction.

Not agreeing with the violation, Serena stopped play and approached the chair to argue the call. She felt that she was being singled out because she wasn’t looking at her box. She went on to say that they never use hand signals and that she would never cheat to win, she “would rather lose than cheat”. She was insulted by Ramos’ call and felt like her character was attacked. Ramos explained to her that it was what he saw and that’s the call even though he agreed with her that she’s not a cheater.

Here’s where I think it all went downhill. Serena felt that she had won the argument with Ramos and probably thought the violation was turned into a verbal warning. Later in the match, she lost a game and was frustrated and smashed her racquet. It obviously was destroyed and she was issued her second violation for abuse. All players get penalized for this, so she was not singled out.

Having thought she had the first violation reversed, she probably wasn’t expecting this to be her second. Ramos, issued a point to Osaka for the two violations giving Osaka the advantage. Serena was then very upset and approached Ramos again. You can see the frustration in her face and she insisted that Ramos apologize to her for accusing her of cheating. Now having calmed down a bit to continue playing, she continued her “conversation” with Ramos on the next change-over. She said that if he was not going to apologize to her, he can stop talking to her. While most of the replays won’t show us this, we were able to see how insistent she was and how she escalated the conversation. She then calls him a “thief” and Ramos then issued Serena her third violation which resulted in a penalized game. This was probably the largest penalty a player has ever received at a grand slam especially at Serena William’s caliber.

Not being able to recover, Osaka beats her to become US Open champ.

Here’s my opinion:

  1. Although I believe Serena does not need to cheat to win, it was clear that Patrick Mouratoglou was coaching her and sending hand signals. Patrick even admits to it after the match to the media and explains that all coaches coach their players, Osaka’s coach was doing it as well. It was also a coincidence that Serena started to approach the net more often after the hand signals… This is a flaw in all of tennis. Either coaches need to be locked up during a match or they need to allow certain things go. All coaches to coach and it’s pretty frustrating that the consistency is not there.
  2. Carlos Ramos could have been a bit more patient. He could have warned the box for coaching and let Serena know that the next one will be an official violation. Now Carlos Ramos does have a track record of being one of the best officials in tennis but he is also known for being trigger happy with violations during both men’s and women’s matches, it wasn’t that unusual. He could have also avoided the escalation by asking Serena to take a moment or he will need to issue that third violation that would result in a game penalty. All-in-all, I’m not blaming him but he could have been more tactful.
  3. Serena should have been way more cool and calm. She’s been there before but she had her blinders on. She knows the rules but when you’re in the moment, it’s tough. She felt that it was an attack on her character and that it was sexist to penalize her as a women more harshly that a male player. She’s had blow-ups in the past and this one was pretty bad. It’s tough when someone has to go on the defense about everything she stands for over what some of us consider a minor occurrence. I don’t blame her for thinking what she had expressed. She has gone through so much to become a role model for all girls and women. It was a shame to witness that.
  4. Osaka was robbed of her moment. She’s 20, this is her first grand slam final, she’s playing her idol for the championship and beats her… I applaud her for not crumbling in the moment. It could have gone even worse with that pro-Serena crowd booing. She held her own and showed emotion while locking things down to win the match. It was unfortunate that Serena and Carlos Ramos wasn’t able to resolve their differences without marring Osaka’s victory.

So we are all losers for having to witness such a massive blow up and melt down by the best player in tennis. We are all losers when a chair umpire missed an opportunity to be more patient. But we are all winners for having such an amazing and exciting US Open and a great new champ in Naomi Osaka!

 

(I’m not a writer so if there are errors, sorry!)

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