“I just felt like everyone was sort of unhappy up there.”
On Saturday (8 September), Naomi Osaka won her first Grand Slam at the US Open. It should have been a happy moment for the 20-year-old tennis player from Japan, but instead the emotions around Osaka’s victory are rather more complicated. Osaka’s competitor, Serena Williams, faced three code violations during the final – code violations which she and many others have argued would not have been applied to a male player.
At the end of the match, the mostly American crowd started booing. Unsure if they were jeering at her or the draconian umpire, Carlos Ramos, Osaka began to cry – leading Williams to comfort Osaka and tell the crowd to be quiet.
In an appearance on the Today show in the US, Osaka said she felt like she needed to apologise to the centre court crowd when they started booing.
“I felt a little sad. I wasn’t sure if they were booing at me or if it was because it wasn’t the outcome they wanted,” she said.
“I just felt like everyone was sort of unhappy up there. I know that the ending wasn’t how people wanted it to be,” she continued.
“I know that in my dreams I won a very tough, competitive match, and I just felt really emotional and I felt like I had to apologise.”
Osaka explained that she had her back turned when Ramos delivered his first controversial call against Williams. He issued her a warning after ruling that her coach, Patrick Mouratoglou, signalled to her in a way that constituted illegal coaching.
Williams denied the accusation, but Ramos later penalised her twice more: docking her a point after she smashed her racket, and issuing her with a full game penalty after she called him a “thief” for stealing the point from her.
“I didn’t really know what was going on because I went to the back and had my back turned,” Osaka said. “Then before I knew it, [Ramos] was saying there was a game penalty. I was a little confused by the whole thing.”
Despite the difficult circumstances of the game, Osaka said she was “really happy” that Williams – one of her biggest tennis heroes – stood up for her when the crowd began booing.
“She knew I was crying,” Osaka explained. “She was saying some things that made me happy overall.”
Since Saturday, the debate around the final has only gotten thornier. The US Open has fined Williams $17,000 (over £13,000) for her code violations, while the Women’s Tennis Association (WTA) supported Williams’ claims that she was subjected to sexist treatment by Ramos.
“The WTA believes that there should be no difference in the standards of tolerance provided to the emotions expressed by men vs women and is committed to working with the sport to ensure that all players are treated the same,” said WTA CEO Steve Simon in a statement.
“We do not believe this was done [on Saturday] night.”
The incident has also sparked debate about the widespread policing of black women’s emotions – particularly anger. A cartoon published in Australian newspaper the Herald Sun has been widely decried as racist for depicting Williams as a raging stereotype of a black woman, while Osaka is shown as a dainty figure with straight, blonde hair. (In reality, Osaka – who is of mixed Haitian and Japanese heritage – has curly hair.)
In the wake of the match and that cartoon, many black women have spoken out on social media to say that Williams’ treatment resonates with their own experiences.
Images: Getty Images