Amid incredible scenes of controversy, 20-year-old Naomi Osaka became the first Japanese player, male or female, to win a Grand Slam title, defeating Serena Williams 6-2, 6-4 at the US Open.
In her first ever Grand Slam final, Osaka played flawless tennis, using a huge serve and forehand to outplay Williams. On the day, Osaka was simply the better player, keeping her composure, hitting with controlled power, and limiting her errors on her way to the title.
It was always going to be a display of contrasts, the Comeback Queen meets a Breakthrough Star, the idol vs. the idolizer, a 36-year-old,31-time Grand Slam finalist vs. a 20-year-oldGrand Slam final debutant.
Both women came into the final in good form, each havinglost just one set in her first six matches. Whoever won, history would be made – Williams aiming to tie the Open Era record with her 24thGrand Slam title or Osaka completing her breakthrough year with a first major title to go along with her first WTA title earlier this year at Indian Wells.
The match was hard-hitting right from the start, with the boisterous New York crowd fully engaged from the very first point.
Both women opened their first service games by bailing themselves out of 0-30 deficits, but Osaka was the first to break, when Williams served up a nervous-looking double faultin the third game. Playing with poise and completely unfazed by the occasion, Osaka broke for a second time to surge to a 4-1 lead, committing only 2 errors to Williams’ 10.
In the very next game, Williams hit a scorching forehand down-the-line winner, followed by a massive swing volley winner to generate her own break point which was quickly squashed by a 188 kph Osaka ace. Superb serving kept Osaka in the game, with the Japanese player putting 73% of her first serves in play versus only 38% for Williams. The American had been putting nearly 80% of her first servesinto play throughher first six rounds, but could never really get her biggest weapon going today, losing the first set 2-6.
The tension in Arthur Ashe Stadium was thick to begin the second set. In the second game, Williams received a coaching violation which she vehemently protested. “I don’t cheat to win, I'd rather lose. I just wanted to let you know,”she asserted to chair umpire Carlos Ramos.
Recalling shades of past US Open meltdowns against Kim Clijsters and Samantha Stosur, Williams seemed to be fueled by the drama, hitting a sharply angled return winner to open the fourth game on the way to breaking Osaka for the first time. However, frustrations continued to mount for Williams who wasn’t able to capitalize on the momentum, committing back-to-back double faults to give the break right back the following game.
From there, the year’s final Grand Slam spiraled out of control. After being broken, Williams smashed a racquet, earning herself a point penalty because of the earlier coaching violation. As she had been the entire match, Osaka remained cool under pressure, undeterred by the escalating chaos around her. During the changeover, more words were exchanged between Williams and Ramos, leading to an extraordinary game penalty, meaning Williams came out of the changeover serving to stay in the match at 3-5. Rising to occasion, Williams served out the game to love, albeit in tears, demanding an apology from the chair umpire.
Serving for the match of her life, Osaka quickly earned two championship points, winning her first Grand Slam title with an unreturned servedeep to Williams’ backhand. It would now be the 20-year-old in tears, playing the match of her young career to surgeinto the Top 10 for the first time at a career high of world No. 7.
The newest Grand Slam Champion Naomi Osaka joins the rest of the world’s Top 20 at the Dongfeng Motor Wuhan Open, taking place 21-29 September 2018. For more information and to buy tickets visit: www.wuhanopen.org and www.4008702014.com
Images from wtatennis.com