No one expected Naomi Osaka to win the US Open yesterday. Everyone favoured her opponent. The crowd was solidly with Serena Williams, as were the bookies. But the 20-year-old Japanese-Haitian, who became the first player representing Japan to win a Grand Slam, prevailed against all the odds.
Victory, however, was bittersweet. The crowd booed her. The announcers were in shock. ‘Perhaps it’s not the finish we were looking for today,’ said one prominent commentator, adding ‘This mama is a role model and respected by all.’ Muted kudos at best for Naomi.
‘It’s not fair,’ wailed Hillary Williams, after the umpire issued a warning when her coach was caught signalling her from the stand. Under questioning after the game, the coach admitted that he had done so but said the penalty was hypocritical: ‘Everybody does it,’ he said.
After smashing her racket onto the court, another violation for which the umpire docked her a point, Serena Clinton accused the judges of stealing the match from her. ‘Apologise,’ she screamed at the umpire. ‘You are the liar. You owe me an apology.’ ‘You will never, ever, ever be on another court of mine as long as you live.’
‘Men have said much worse without penalty,’ said the establishment’s choice after the umpire docked her a game for the verbal abuse. ‘They get away with it because they are men.’
The crowd stayed with her, as did the commentators. Writing for the Independent, Jonathan Liew contended that ‘the fundamental divide here is between those for whom this is no more than a simple issue of rule enforcement, and those for whom this is part of something much larger: of who gets to make the rules and who has to live with them, of wider injustices that originated long before Hillary ever picked up a racquet, and will endure long after she has put it down for the last time.’ The ‘sanctity of the rules,’ he said, ‘has always struck me as faintly suspicious. . . . [A]nd they’re never as objective as they look.’
Now, at the peak of her career, Serena Clinton is ‘a walking time capsule of all the big and little injustices that have pockmarked her life.’ It’s all so unfair. No one ever proved that she did anything wrong when her directed investment in cattle futures turned $1,000 into $100,000 in a little over 10 months. Maybe she was a little imprudent when she told a lineman in 2009 ‘I swear to God I’ll take the fucking ball and shove it down your fucking throat.’ But that lost her the match point. It was so unfair. Only someone insensitive to how the rules pretend to be objective but are really stacked against marginalised groups could think that otherwise.
The world now awaits Hillary Williams’s book What Happened. Sure to be a bestseller, it will expose all the unfair reasons she lost, blame everyone else, and justify the immature, divisive, and appalling treatment of her opponent in the court of public opinion.
The deck was stacked against Naomi Osaka. She won anyway. The real inequity was the unsportsmanlike rage that greeted her victory.
Tennis used to be a game for ladies and gentlemen. The petulant behaviour of Serena Clinton and her fans and supporters shows that those days are over.