Amid all the controversy that swirled around the end to the match, Naomi Osaka kept her cool, just as she had kept control.
Osaka became the first Japanese woman to win a Grand Slam title on Saturday night when she defeated Serena Williams in two sets on Arthur Ashe Stadium Court.
As Williams got into a right old dustup with chair umpire Carlos Ramos in the second set, the fact was that the all-time great was in a right old tussle with the 20-year-old who idolizes her.
But after Williams was broken twice in the first set to lose it 6-2, it looked less and less like Osaka was going to lose it. After Williams was docked a game for a third code violation to make the score 5-3 Osaka, she held serve for 5-4. Then, with the absolute poised she had shown throughout — precise groundstrokes, good service returns, fleet of foot — Osaka served out the match.
Osaka’s tennis dreams and her affection for Williams began in Elmont. She is the daughter of a Haitian father and a Japanese mother, and her father wanted to be close to his relatives on Long Island. Being inspired by the Williams sisters, he introduced Naomi and sister Mari to tennis while they were in grade school and they went to the U.S. Open. Naomi’s game blossomed after the family moved to Florida.
“When I was growing up, I did a whole report on her in third grade,” Osaka said on Saturday night. “I colored it and everything. I said, I want to be like her.”
Point for point on Saturday night, she was like her. At times, considerably better. And when she met Williams at the net after winning, amidst all the hullabaloo, there were tears.
“When I hugged her at the net, I felt like a little kid again,” Osaka said.
Osaka said that she was so much into the match that she didn’t know what all the arguing was about.
“I didn't really hear anything because I had my back turned, so I didn't really know there was anything going on at the moment,” Osaka said.
“I mean, the crowd was really noisy, so I really didn't hear. Like, I really didn't hear anything that was going on. And when I turned around, uhm, it was 5-3, so I was a little bit confused then. But for me, I felt like I really had to focus during this match because she's such a great champion, and I know that she can come back from any point. I was just trying to focus on myself at that time.”
When she had served out the match, there was the smallest of fist pumps, really no different than after she had won any point of the match. Her coach Sascha Bajin, who had been Williams’ long-time hitting partner, said earlier in the week that it’s all he can do to get a reaction out of Osaka.
“To have a huge reaction isn't really me in the first place,” Osaka said. “It just still didn't really feel that real. So for me it just felt like a normal match just walking up to the net. But it's Serena that's on the other side. She hugged me, and it was really awesome.”
As Williams summed up after she lost to the rising star: “She played an amazing match. She deserved credit, she deserved to win. At the end of the day, that's what it was.”