US Open champion Naomi Osaka has displayed maturity beyond her years in assessing the drama that overshadowed her maiden Grand Slam victory.
Speaking in Japan, Osaka opened up on a question that crossed the minds of many tennis fans who witnessed the heartbreaking moment the 20-year-old broke down crying in the dramatic aftermath to her idol Serena Williams’ meltdown.
“Do you feel a little bit sad maybe that you were unable to enjoy the moment, your first Grand Slam, because of perhaps Serena’s drama?” a journalist asked Osaka.
Osaka’s response was classy and focused on the positives.
“I don’t feel sad because I wouldn’t even know what I’m expected to feel because I feel like since it was my first final and it was my first Grand Slam victory, overall I felt really happy and I know that I accomplished a lot,” Osaka said.
“I don’t think I even thought about feeling sad because there’s no experience for me to draw on, on any other Grand Slam final win.”
The young Japanese star initially addressed Serena’s meltdown in an interview with American broadcaster NBC, explaining she was sad after seeing her idol in such an agitated state during the second set of the US Open final.
“I felt a little bit sad because I wasn’t really sure if [the crowd] were booing at me or if it wasn’t the outcome that they wanted,” Osaka said on NBC’s Today.
“I also could sympathise because I’ve been a fan of Serena my whole life and I knew how badly the crowd wanted her to win. I don’t know, I was just really emotional up there.
“I felt like everyone was sort of unhappy up there and I know that it wasn’t really… the ending wasn’t what people wanted it to be.
“In my dreams, I won in a very competitive match, so I don’t know, I just felt very emotional and I felt like I had to apologise.”
Williams was initially angered at being issued a code violation by umpire Carlos Ramos after a gesture from Patrick Mouratoglou in the player’s box was deemed to be coaching, contravening grand slam rules that do not apply on the WTA Tour.
The American was then handed a point penalty for smashing her racquet as she trailed in the second set and, after calling Ramos a “liar” and a “thief”, she was docked a game.
An outraged Williams claimed she was being treated differently to male players while boos rang down from the stands of Arthur Ashe Stadium, before continuing the match in tears.
Osaka kept her composure to complete a 6-2 6-4 triumph, but the start of the trophy presentation was met with further jeers, resulting in Japan’s first major champion crying and apologising to spectators.
Williams, who missed a chance to claim a record-equalling 24th grand slam singles title, refused to answer questions during the presentations but asked the crowd to stop booing and congratulate Osaka in her moment of glory.
“I felt really happy because she knew I was crying and she was saying some things and it just made me happy overall,” Osaka said.
Serena acted with ‘grace and class’ according to NBA legend
NBA star Stephen Curry says Serena Williams acted with “grace and class” during her controversial US Open final defeat to Naomi Osaka.
Williams was issued a code violation for what umpire Carlos Ramos deemed to be coaching from Patrick Mouratoglou, irritating the 23-time major champion who insisted she was not a cheat.
A point penalty for racquet abuse led to her branding Ramos a “liar” and a “thief” and she was then docked a game, after which she called for the match referee and alleged she was being treated differently to male players.
Williams was in tears as she suffered a 6-2 6-4 loss to Osaka, whose maiden grand slam triumph was overshadowed by her opponent’s argument with the official.
IS THIS RACIST? Why America is so furious with Serena Williams cartoon
The American’s behaviour has divided opinion, with Billie Jean King among the high-profile figures to come out in support of Williams in the face of fierce criticism from some quarters.
Aussie NBA star Ben Simmons also threw his weight behind Serena.
To disrespect Serena Williams, a 23 time Grand Slam Champion, in this light is truly disappointing. As an Australian, I am truly disappointed #morethananathlete
— Ben Simmons (@BenSimmons25) September 10, 2018
Golden State Warriors superstar point guard Curry is firmly in the former camp, but has urged people to recognise the achievements of Osaka.
“I would say a championship match in terms of high-level talent on the court between those two ladies… obviously Naomi deserved to win and she played amazing,” Curry told Omnisport.
“The way Serena handled the situation, I think she handled it with such grace and class.
“At the end of the day, I hope everybody understands and celebrates Naomi because she’s the US Open champion and that’s pretty dope.”
Asked how he deals with decisions that go against his team, Curry added: “It’s tough but with experience you understand how you can control your emotions and how you can stay focused on what the task at hand is and that’s just winning basketball games and not letting anything get in the way of that.
“You’re going to have reactions. That’s what sport is all about.
“But the biggest goal in the winners is usually to stay locked in on why they’re out there on the court in the first place and not let anybody try to get in the way.”