It is customary for the umpire to be introduced to the crowd during a trophy ceremony, as Eva Asderaki had been after the 2017 U.S. Open women’s final. But this time, [Carlos] Ramos was hustled off the court. He was unavailable for comment. If he received a commemorative watch or lapel pin from the USTA, then the gifting took place in a corridor somewhere. Even without Ramos, the booing continued. [Naomi] Osaka was still unsure about whether she was being booed. In a scene that broke hearts, the newly crowned champion covered her eyes with her visor and cried. Serena [Williams] wrapped a protective arm around her again, and showed class in her remarks to the crowd.
“Stop booing,” Serena told the audience. Her words finally reduced the volume and the temperature inside [Arthur] Ashe Stadium. “She played an amazing match. She deserves the credit and deserved to win.”
Osaka had truly earned it. A straight-set victory over her idol. Just the way she had dreamt it—but without all the yelling, finger-pointing, and racket-smashing. As superbly as Osaka had played, her ability to block out the cacophony inside the stadium had been equally impressive. “I think I was able to do that because it was my first Grand Slam final,” she said in a jam-packed interview room. “I felt like I shouldn’t let myself be overcome by nerves or anything. I should just focus on playing because that’s what’s gotten me to this point.”
No matter how loud and crazy things became inside the stadium, Osaka kept her primary goal in mind. Her emotional maturity was as instrumental to her first major title as her serve, returns, forehands, two-fisted backhands, and execution of a game plan built on attacking the Serena backhand early and often. Proud of her achievement on one hand and cognizant of how disappointed Serena was on the other, Osaka gave voice to her conflicting emotions in the interview room. “I know that, like, she really wanted to have the twenty-fourth Grand Slam [title], right? Everyone knows this. It’s on the commercials. It’s everywhere. But when I step onto the court, I feel like a different person. I’m not a Serena fan. I’m just a tennis player. But when I hugged her at the net, I felt like a little kid again.”
Many postmatch narratives argued that Serena had spoiled the occasion for Osaka, that everyone should have been talking about how beautifully Osaka played instead of the controversial officiating or the contentiousness between Serena and Ramos, as if people could not talk about all three. Serena certainly commandeered the headlines. As a truly iconic athlete, she always does. Certainly, the headlines would have been markedly different had Serena not lost her poise because of officiating that many in the tennis community deemed unfair to her. But Serena has always hated to lose more than she loves to win. She has that in common with her fellow athletic icons. That has always been part of the package that comes with the most celebrated champion in professional tennis history. As a girl, Osaka was so drawn to that package that she wanted to replicate it. Yes, the 2018 U.S. Open champion did not get to celebrate on court the way champions traditionally do. However, she took that in stride.
“I’m always going to remember the Serena I love,” Osaka said. “It doesn’t change anything for me. She was really nice to me, like at the net and at the podium. I don’t really see what would change.”