Serena Williams Lost the US Open Because Naomi Osaka Is a Better Player. Period.

Serena Williams’ comeback wasn’t supposed to go like this. She was supposed to win the US Open and make those terrible tennis authorities eat their words about black catsuits not being appropriate tennis attire. She was supposed to show that a woman can really have it all by giving birth and then still being the best female tennis player in the world. The problem is that Naomi Osaka is a better tennis player than Serena Williams.

Osaka outplayed Williams the entire way through the US Open Women’s finals, winning the first set six games to two, and she was well on her way to winning the second set when Williams was penalized for receiving coaching from the sidelines. Her coach, Patrick Mouratoglou, admitted after the game that he was, in fact, trying to give her hand signals in violation of the rule about players receiving coaching during a match.

Williams would not let it go, however, and verbally unleashed on umpire Carlos Ramos, calling him a thief and saying he stole a point from her.

At a certain point, after she just kept doing it, Ramos gave her another code violation and awarded a game win to Osaka, who ended up winning the set 6-4 to a chorus of boos at her first Grand Slam win.

Williams called Ramos sexist, but he’s not, he’s awarded similar penalties to men; he’s just more strict than other umpires. much ink has been spilled over other umpires letting male players get away with more abuse and not issuing code violations, and that’s true, but as Christopher Clarey pointed out in The New York Times, Ramos has issued similar penalties to men in the past.

Of the outrage over Williams being issued these penalties, the one thing no one has said is that she didn’t break the rules. She was receiving coaching, she did smash her racquet and she was verbally abusive in a way that he was within his rights to penalize her for.

It reminds me of the defenses of the New England Patriots. Williams wasn’t cheating the way Brady and Belichick do, but the defenses are the same; it’s not that they didn’t break the rules, it’s just that other people broke the rules and got away with it so punishing them for breaking the rules is unfair. Sports fans are pretty consistent about the rules not applying to players they like.

But what’s been lost in the shuffle is Serena Williams was probably going to lose anyway. She was losing when she was penalized, and the only other time Osaka played Williams, it was also a win for Osaka. Serena Williams is one of the all-time greats, and no one can take that away from her. But no matter how well she keeps in shape, she’s not going to be able to play forever. She’s already 36 in a sport where the average age for women is around 26. Naomi Osaka is 20. Serena Williams probably would have won this match in her prime, but she’s not in her prime anymore, and the inspiring comeback story we all wanted about the woman who can have it all is going to have to face the reality that no one has the strength, speed and stamina to compete at the highest levels with players half their age.

Naomi Osaka didn’t steal a win from Williams because of a bad ref. She played a better game than Williams and didn’t break any of the rules. She deserved her win, she earned it.

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5 years ago

Spot on.