Had the course of the match seen its normal ebbs and flows, the biggest takeaway of the day – aside of the winner – would have been the generational battle that the US Open women’s final had witnessed. The continuation of the rivalry between the battle-worn Serena Williams, the player who had been a mentor-of-sorts to the 20-year-old Naomi Osaka, who self-confessedly had had a dream of playing against her while growing up.
Unfortunately, instead of the day bringing along an interpretation of the future, it crashed and burned, heaping a pile of debris that perhaps would take a while to sift. And, while Osaka’s promising stature and fortitude will be the easier detritus to sort out, making sense of the rubble that spanned Williams’ behaviour would not only be the most difficult endeavour to carry out but also an unenviable task at that.
Not that they haven’t been attempted. On the contrary, so many attempts have been made to put Williams’ actions into so many varied contexts that Osaka’s first Major win has come to be somewhat of an afterthought. Where it should have been the prominently striking eventuality, it’s become a byline and one, not of its own making.
Williams’ words on how dual-standards are prevalent in the sport have been taken to heart. As have been overly-emphasised her invocations about her trying to fight for womanhood. But, what has been overwhelmingly cloaked is her own actions which brought her – and the match – in the eye of such a redundant storm and which made her out to be a paradoxical person rather than the straight-cut visage of a decorous role-model she has been trying to be.
The two code violations she received and for which she was penalised were by the book. Instead of accepting the same and moving on in order to focus on the match that never looked to be in her control, Williams tried to brazen it out.
First, by demanding – with more than a hint of intimidation – an apology from the chair umpire Carlos Ramos, before terming him a liar and a thief. Then, by trying to make reparations, as if noticing how the narrative had entirely slipped out of her control in her frustrated venting – when Ramos gave her her third code violation and a game penalty – by trying to convince the referee who she had called on the court in near-tears how she was being punished unfairly for calling out the umpire.
If these weren’t enough, in her post-match press conference, Williams tried to turn around the narrative by passing the onus of responsibility altogether by pinning the blame on other umpires who, according to her weren’t imposing these same rules on other (male) players with the same stringency as she was being subject to.
Aside from the bigger picture that two – or several in this instance – wrongs never make a right, to Williams’ mind, it didn’t matter that she had referred to the umpire as a liar and thief for carrying out his responsibility. Nor it did seem justified that it was her coach, Patrick Mouratoglou, who had started off this chain of reaction by being caught coaching by the umpire. She repeatedly mentioned that her character was being besmirched, but the biggest point to ponder was had her coach not acted overly-smart from the box, the umpire wouldn’t have had to impose a code violation on her, irrespective of whether she was a willing party to being coached or not.
As such, the aspect of her being an inspiration – as stated by the USTA – does bear introspection. If she were an inspiration, beyond her status as one of the greats of the game – if not the greatest – would Williams not be more mindful of her attitude? Especially, since she made a pointed reference to her standing up for what was right so as to set a good example for her daughter. What example was she, then, setting for her 16-year-younger rival, who faced her without any awe or self-doubt and who had won against her – fair and square, with the better tactical nous to account for it? How inspiring was Williams on the day when Osaka was made to feel embarrassed – by the raucous and jeering crowd, not to mention by a couple of the senior USTA officials – to have emerged as the winner?
Indeed, Williams did attempt to make reparations to quiet the crowd, but it came far too late even as it became an example of tokenism instead of well-minded intent.
Just as perfunctory as Williams’ extended statements about fighting for women’s rights and women’s equality seemed in the aftermath of the match.
For she looked to have completely forgotten that it was a woman – rather, a very young woman – who was playing on the other side of the net and who was trying to make her own case for representing women, by virtue of being a face of the future of women’s tennis.