Beat a legend, become a legend.
Naomi Osaka was inspired and Serena Williams imploded in a wild US Open final that erupted in mayhem and ended in a milestone leaving some fans reigning boos down on officials during the trophy presentation.
Playing with remarkable poise and power, the 20-year-old Osaka slammed Williams, 6-2, 6-4, exploiting a stunning implosion from her tennis idol to make history as the first Japanese Grand Slam champion.
This 50th anniversary of the US Open final came to a controversial climax as a seething Serena clashed with chair umpire Carlos Ramos, who hit her with a game violation penalty staking Osaka to a 5-3 second-set lead.
A decade ago, Osaka was a fan sitting up in the cheap seats of Arthur Ashe Stadium dreaming of dueling Williams in the US Open final.
Realizing her dream with a dynamic performance, Osaka dropped just one set in seven matches en route to her first Grand Slam crown.
“I mean, it doesn’t really feel that real right now,” Osaka told the media afterward. “I think maybe in a few days I’ll realize what I’ve done. Right now it just feels, like, I don’t know. Aside from the fact there’s a lot of press in this room, it feels just like another tournament.”
Contesting just her third career final, Osaka competed with composure and showed pure class in the trophy presentation as fans voiced their displeasure at officials.
“I know everyone was cheering for her and I’m sorry it had to end like this,” said Osaka, elicting an ovation from the crowd. “It was my dream to play Serena in the US Open final, so I’m really glad I was able to do that and grateful I was able to play.”
The 20-year-old Osaka commanded the center of the court and dictated play for much of the match beating the former world No. 1 for the second time in as many meetings, capturing her second career title and collecting a champion’s check for $3.8 million.
Facing a younger version of herself, Williams was often forced to counter off her back foot and showed stress on serve spitting up six double faults as Osaka converted four of five break points.
A stirring victory was overshadowed by climactic controversy.
Standing side-by-side during the trophy presentation, Williams wrapped her arm around Osaka one point and showed grace asking the crowd to stop booing and giving the Indian Wells champion credit for a well-deserved victory.
“This is her moment,” Williams told the media afterward. “Stop booing because she doesn’t deserve it. I don’t deserve it. The people on the tennis court didn’t deserve it. They were all here to see tennis.
“She played an amazing match. She deserved credit, she deserved to win. At the end of the day, that’s what it was.”
Initially hit with a code violation warning for gestures coach Patrick Mouratoglou made early in the second set, Williams splattered her Wilson Blade to the court incurring a point penalty.
Incensed by what she perceived as a question to her integrity, the 36-year-old Williams demanded an apology on the changeover berating the veteran ump as “a thief” for “stealing” a point from her. Those comments results in the game penalty for verbal abuse.
“Say you’re sorry, say you’re sorry,” Williams told Ramos. “Then don’t talk to me. How dare you insinuate that I was cheating and you stole a point from me! You’re a thief too.”
Ramos responded with a clear “Code violation, verbal abuse Mrs. Williams.”
Teetering on the edge of erupting in tears, Williams called for tournament referee Brian Earley, who ruled Ramos followed protocol issuing first the warning, then the point penalty and then the game penalty that put Osaka up 5-3.
Earley was also tournament referee when Williams famously melted down against Kim Clijsters in the 2009 US Open semifinals when she grew irate over a foot-fault call and threatened to shove the ball down the lineswoman’s throat.
Asked afterward what role her clash with chair umpire Ramos had in the outcome, Williams replied “I don’t know.”
“I feel like she was playing really well, but I feel like I really needed to do a lot ot change in that match to try to come out front, to try to come out on top.
“It’s hard to say because I always fight till the end and I always try to come back, no matter what. But she was also playing really, really well.”
In a final of first-strike tennis, a fast start was imperative. Osaka seized it storming through five straight games.
Standing toe-to-toe with her tennis idol, Osaka won a battle of crackling forehands then earned the first break when Williams double faulted.
Commanding the center of the court, Osaka found the short angle with a forehand then slashed an ace backing up the break in the fourth game.
Quicker off the mark, Osaka was beating Williams with depth and angle in forehand exchanges. When the 20th seed slapped a backhand into net, the 20-year-old Japanese snatched the double break for 4-1.
Ripping a forehand bolt down the line, Williams screamed “come on!” trying to rouse herself as she earned break point.
Pressing the mute button, Osaka blasted a 117 mph ace down the T then erased a second break point—the 18th straight break point she saved in the tournament—stamping her 22nd consecutive hold.
Grunting as she lunged for returns, Williams refused to retreat on return and paid the price as Osaka earned double set point.
Blistering a body serve that rattled a groaning Williams, Osaka completed an overwhelming 34-minute opener.
Pressing to combat the power of a fearless opponent 16 years her junior, the six-time champion spit up 13 unforced errors, including an uncharacteristic four double faults.
A formidable front-runner, Osaka was 31-0 when winning the opening set this year.
A primary problem for Williams was she wasn’t getting a sniff on Osaka’s serve and she was struggling to land her first serve and defend her own second serve.
Early in the second set, Ramos hit Williams with a coaching warning after seeing her coach, Patrick Mouratoglou, make a “move forward” gesture with both hands.
An incensed Williams stared Ramos down informing the veteran chair umpire: “I don’t cheat to win, I’d rather lose.”
Sweat was pouring off both players when Williams showed terrific touch with an exquisite backhand drop shot that helped her hold for 2-1.
Straddling the baseline, Osaka won a crackling 19-shot rally—the longest of the match—with a heavy forehand down the line saving break point.
An unrelenting Williams kept pounding deep drives and all the pushing paid off as she scored her first break for 3-1, snapping Osaka’s streak of 22 straight break points saved and eliciting a standing ovation from the more than 23,000 fans packed inside.
Contesting just the 11th Grand Slam of her career, Osaka stared down the stress breaking right back. That’s when Williams reached the breaking point tomahawking her Wilson Blade to the court leaving a mangled mess and incurring a point penalty after the earlier coaching warning.
When Williams realized the point penalty the seething 17th seed looked so enraged she appeared to be on the verge of tears.
“I didn’t get coaching. I didn’t get coaching,” Williams shouted at Ramos. “You owe me an apology. I have never cheated in my life you owe me an apology.”
Ramos hit Williams with a game penalty violation for berating Ramos with the “you’re a thief” accusation. An emotional Williams rolled through her most decisive hold for 4-5.
Credit Osaka for keeping cool amid the chaos.
The 20th-seeded Osaka slashed her sixth ace out wide for double championship point.
A 114 mph missile out wide ended a historic and hellacious final.
The new champion embraced the six-time champion at net with Williams forgoing the traditional handshake to the chair umpire reminding Ramos again “you owe me an apology.”
Osaka lit up so many of these New York nights permitting two games or less in nine of the 15 sets she won in capturing the title.
In the city that never sleeps, Osaka planned a snoozy celebration.
“Sleep,” Osaka replied when asked how she will celebrate the championship. “I’m not really a social person like that. Maybe I’ll play video games. I don’t know.”