Rising professional tennis phenom Naomi Osaka pulled of a stunning U.S. Open finals victory against one of greatest athletes to ever pick up a racket – Serena Williams.
Osaka played so well that Williams could barely keep up, and pressure of losing in front of hundreds of people in attendance, and millions watching internationally, caused Williams to have an epic breakdown that has since fueled a tabloid firestorm.
Rather than cheer Osaka, the crowd, the commentators and US Open officials all expressed shock and grief that Serena Williams lost.
Osaka spent what should have been her victory lap in tears. It had been her childhood dream to make it to the US Open and possibly play against Williams, her idol, in the final.
It’s hard to recall a more unsportsmanlike event.
Here was a young girl who pulled off one of the greatest upsets ever, who fought for every point she earned, ashamed.
At the awards ceremony, Osaka covered her face with her black visor and cried. The crowd booed her. Katrina Adams, chairman and president of the USTA, opened the awards ceremony by denigrating the winner and lionizing Williams — whose ego was noticeably pierced that day. “Perhaps it’s not the finish we were looking for today,” Adams said, “but Serena, you are a champion of all champions.” Addressing the crowd, Adams added, “This mama is a role model and respected by all.”
In the days following her loss to Osaka, Williams’ tirade captured the imagination of critics and a particular cartoonist who depicted her in a less than flattering fashion.
The hoopla surrounding Williams inevitably overshadowed Osaka’s dominant performance at the Open, and for several days after her win, the media treated her like an afterthought.
With Williams being the bigger name, and only one tournament victory away from tying the all time record in women’s tennis – she was given a disproportionate amount of attention for losing, while Osaka, faded in the background.
But as the dust settles from Serena’s histrionics, Osaka is finally getting her moment in the sun – which stems from many years of practice, sacrifice and dedication.
Osaka first came to prominence at the age of 16 when she defeated former US Open champion Samantha Stosur at the 2014 Bank of the West Classic, which was her first time in the main draw of a WTA tournament. She reached her first WTA final two years later at the 2016 Toray Pan Pacific Open, which took her into the top 50 in the world rankings. This year was her breakthrough. In March she won the Indian Wells tournament, beating former world No. 1 Maria Sharapova in the first round. She is the first Japanese player to win a Grand Slam singles tournament in defeating Williams at the U.S. Open. Osaka has reached a career-high ranking of world No. 7 on Sept. 10.
Naomi Osaka was born in Ch??-ku, Osaka to a Haitian father, Leonard “San” François, and a Japanese mother, Tamaki Osaka.
Naomi and her older sister Mari were given their mother’s maiden name for practical reasons when the family lived in Japan. Her father was born in Haiti and went to New York University before moving to Japan, where he met her mother and later married her.
In racially homogeneous Japan, Osaka is considered h?fu, which is Japanese for biracial. Her Japanese grandfather was furious when he found out that her mother was romantically involved with a Black man. As a result of the interracial relationship, her mother did not have contact with her family for more than 10 years. In a 2016 interview, Osaka said: “When I go to Japan, people are confused. From my name, they don’t expect to see a Black girl.”
Osaka moved at the age of three with her family to the United States where she currently resides in Florida. Osaka’s father made the decision to register her with the Japan Tennis Association when she began her career. She turned pro in September 2013, and made her WTA Tour main-draw debut at the 2014 Bank of the West Classic, after defeating Alla Kudryavtseva and Petra Marti? in qualifying. She was then pitted against 2011 US Open champion Samantha Stosur and came from a set down to defeat the Australian in a match lasting 2 1/2 hours.
In the U.S. Open final, Osaka defeated Williams in straight sets to claim the 2018 U.S. Open trophy. During the award ceremony, Osaka stated, “I just want to say thank you for watching the match. It was always my dream to play Serena in the US Open finals so I’m really glad I was able to do that. Thank you.”
She became the first Japanese tennis player to win a major tennis tournament.
In interviews, Osaka has been adamant about embracing both her Asian and black heritages, conceding that while she represents Japan in sporting events, she doesn’t identify solely as Japanese. She proudly reps her Haitian side.