There is something truly thrilling about watching someone as young as yourself achieve greatness. This could not be truer when watching Japanese-Haitian tennis player Naomi Osaka win the U.S. Open and beat top tennis player Serena Williams.
Osaka, 20, has arguably made history with her win on Sept. 8, being the first Japanese woman to make it to the final round of a major tennis tournament and winning her first Grand Slam.
Unfortunately that important and historic moment was overshadowed by the controversy around the penalties against 23-time Grand Slam winner, Williams, and the perceived double standards between male and female athletes.
No moment showed that clearer than the award ceremony where boos could be heard from the crowd, and the crowned winner looked anything but happy to be standing there receiving her prize.
Williams herself remarked on Osaka’s reaction, saying: “I felt bad because I’m crying and she’s crying, you know? She just won. I’m not sure if they were happy tears or sad tears. I felt like, ‘Wow, this isn’t how I felt when I won my first Grand Slam. I definitely don’t want her to feel like that.’”
The moment is a hard one to watch. As the trophy presentation starts, the roaring of boos from the stands starts and appears to only get louder and louder.
Osaka stands, head down and eventually pulls down the cap of her visor to shield her face and the tears that are overcoming her.
Williams turns to Osaka and embraces her, talking to her, delivering what can only be interpreted as motivating, comforting words.
In the weeks following the game, Williams has been the point of discussion in conversations about female athletes, female black athletes and the $17,000 fine that was eventually given to Williams for arguing with the umpire.
Williams’ originally argued with him for a warning she received after her coach appeared to gesture to her, which is a violation during a game.
Their confrontations continued with Williams’ losing a point for a second violation and then a game penalty for arguing that she was not cheating.
Penalties and violations aside, Osaka has been noted to have played a better game. And what was missing from the post-match conversation was Osaka.
The young player who not only won, but played against her inspiration. It’s as if people forgot about that part of the match and the story.
First, Osaka was a highly talked about player coming into her finals match against Serena Williams.
Former professional tennis player Pam Shriver said in an interview with the Washington Post leading up to the game that she saw her 16-year-old self in Osaka.
“I was still playing 16-and-under nationals the month before, losing to Tracy Austin and then I went to the U.S. Open and lost in the finals,” Shriver said. “Whereas Osaka — Osaka’s been in the big time. Even though she’s young, she’s become, in the last two years, a very mature young pro that I see growing in leaps and bounds.”
Second, Osaka was playing against the woman who got her into tennis. Osaka’s father, after watching the Williams’ sisters play in the French Open, was inspired to have his daughters play.
While Osaka has to remain focused in a match as big as the U.S. Open, the idea of playing against her must be a nerve-wracking one. In addition, Williams, a new mom, was fighting to get her 24th Grand Slam and first one since giving birth last September with life threatening complications. While athletes are trained to not let distractions throw them off their flow during matches, the pressure is there even if the audience can’t see it.
Lastly, Osaka and Williams are both women. Even more, they are minority women athletes who have been pitted against each other in a major championship game for a grand slam title.
The stakes are high. The nature of what happened in the stands and in the media following the match is a clear example of failure by fans to understand that both players are human at the end of the day.
Osaka was denied her moment to shine and instead was made to feel that a ruling dispute was her fault.
Williams even felt bad for causing her pain in what should have been a beautiful and celebratory moment.
Email Nyela Graham at firstname.lastname@example.org