Osaka Surprise. Serena Melts Down (Again) at Open
September 10, 2018

What is it about Serena Williams and the US Open Tennis Championships? Every few years we get to see the diva side of the tennis queen, and while some think berating a linesperson or a chair umpire is entertaining, it also reveals a competitor's true character, Interestingly, we saw some maturity (in part) in Williams, as she once again carried on like a spoiled brat.

If you haven't heard about Saturday's incident by now, Williams was issued a game penalty for “verbal abuse” at the chair umpire in her 6-2, 6-4 loss to Naomi Osaka for the ladies' championship. Early in the second set, Williams was given a warning by chair umpire Carlos Ramos, when he spotted Serena's coach giving a gesture from his box. Ramos interpreted that as coaching, which isn't allowed, and gave the warning.

Apparently unaware of the warning, Williams lost a key point later in the set, and smashed her racket on the ground repeatedly, destroying it. That was a second violation (Williams apparently thought it was her first), and was assessed a point penalty. At the end of that game, now aware of the situation, started yelling at Ramos, calling him a “thief”, saying “you stole a point from me.” Down 4-3, she kept calling him a thief and demanded an apology. Ramos gave her a third penalty for 'verbal abuse of an official'. Down 5-3, fuming, and on the verge of tears, she served the next game and won, but the 20 year-old Osaka, who grew up idolizing Williams, served and won the final game and the championship.

We'll get back to Osaka and the awkward moments that followed in a second, but while some of the media talk show pundits are proclaiming that Ramos be banned from the US Open, it's really hard to side with Williams. This is the same woman (although now with a daughter of her own), who still doesn't think she did anything wrong in 2009 when she was called for a foot fault against Kim Clijsters, and could be heard telling the lineswoman that she was going to stuff a ball “down her (effin') throat.”

There have been other incidents at the Open as well. In 2011, she yelled “come on” (as she often does) to encourage herself, but did it this time in a match against Samantha Stosur, while the ball was still in play. Williams was issued a point penalty. In 2004, before the electronic eye and the challenge system, she berated an official for an 'out' call in a match against Jennifer Capriati.

You could argue, as Williams' coach does, and even said to ESPN before the controversial match is over, that there is coaching done all the time. That doesn't make it right. One newspaper account indicated that most chair umpires tell the players to tell their coaches to knock off the gestures. That could have ended things right there. What no one seems to have pointed out, is that if Williams didn't act like a baby and smash her racket, none of this would have happened, either. Multi-millionaire sports legends behaving themselves. Wow, what a concept! Even if she made the “thief” comment without smashing her racket, it would have cost her a point, and not a game.

After the match and things had settled down a bit, Williams was asked if the penalty cost her the match. “That's a good question”, she said, and pointed out that she always fights to come back. Osaka was leading, but Williams could have come back. Because of her behavior, we really should be glad she didn't.

As far as Osaka is concerned, she was asked live during the trophy presentation if the reality of winning her first grand slam lived up to the dream. The extremely shy champion didn't answer the question, and, holding back tears, told the crowd that she knew was rooting for Williams, “Thank you for coming to the match.”

Osaka is the first Japanese-born person grand slam champion (male or female), and moved to New York at the age of three. She would attend the US Open as a kid and sit in the upper deck, hoping to get a glimpse of Williams, and maybe even get her autograph one day. Her win will not be remembered by even the most ardent of tennis fans in the years to come, without being reminded of Williams and her 'thief' remark.

Williams is the real thief for stealing Osaka's moment, but we do have to give Williams credit for trying to give the spotlight back. She hugged Osaka at the court and seemed to have apologized. She also told the crowd, who was booing after the match, not to boo and to cheer Osaka. It did little good, though.

During one of Serena's outbursts at Ramos, she said, “I have never cheated in my life. I have a daughter and I stand for what’s right for her and I have never cheated.” Hopefully that's true, but maybe the real lesson she should teach her daughter, or better yet learn for herself, is how to behave.

Oh yeah: Novak Djokovic won the men's championship over Juan Martin Del Potro in straight sets. No drama here, but no story either. Rafael Nadal withdrew during the semis against Del Potro with an injury, and the match was up against the first Sunday of NFL football.

Ram tough: It may be no surprise that the Vegas oddsmakers have the New England Patriots as the betting favorite to win the Super Bowl, but you might be surprised that the Los Angeles Rams are co-favorites to get to the big game representing the NFC. Another surprise is that they are co-favorites with the Green Bay Packers (both 5 to 1). You might remember that it was actually the Philadelphia Eagles that won the title last year (They are 5½ to 1).

Rootin' for the Rockies?: Coming into Monday's action, the Dodgers were trailing the Colorado Rockies by just a half-game in the National League West, and ahead of the Arizona Diamondbacks by two games. Colorado and Arizona are playing each other in a four-game series this week in Denver. I know Dodger fans probably want Arizona to win, but if the D-Backs lose, the Dodgers could conceivably distance themselves from Arizona, and with wins in Cincinnati, keep the Rockies in their sites. The Dodgers do have to beat the Reds, though—something they have not yet done this year.

0-0-1: Congratulations to Cleveland Browns fans for not having to endure another 0-16 season. After losing all of their games last year, the Browns opened 2018 with a 21-21 tie at home against their hated divisions rival, the Pittsburgh Steelers. The Browns were down 21-7 in the fourth quarter, fought back to force OT, and had a potential game-winning field goal blocked in the final seconds of the extra period. They still haven't won a game, ut at least they won't lose them all. According to ESPN, it's the first time since 1971 that a season opener has ended in a tie. They didn't even play overtime back then.

0-5: Yes, the Dodgers lost in Cincinnati tonight 10-6, and the Rockies pummeled Arizona 13-2. If the Dodgers are to win the National League's western division for a sixth consecutive year, they have to beat last place teams like the Reds. The Dodgers were swept in four straight earlier this year—something lamented in our May 14 column.

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