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Osaka Gives Japan Maiden Major by Upending Serena in the U.S. Open Final

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Osaka Gives Japan Maiden Major by Upending Serena in the U.S. Open Final


Wimbledon Lawn Tennis Championships - Day 6 - Saturday 7th July 2018 -  All England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club - Wimbledon - London - EnglandBoth U.S. Open finalists were on the precipice of history. For Serena Williams an eighth title at Flushing Meadows would have been another accolade by equalizing Margaret Court with a record 24th major. While for Naomi Osaka lifting the trophy would brand her as the first individual from Japan to ever capture one of the sports’ highest honors. Ultimately, it was the 20 year old who realized her dream. Osaka surprised Serena 6-2, 6-4 to capture the championship.

For Osaka, who as a youngster watched from the top bleacher as her idol held court at this same venue, to be in the final felt “a little bit, surreal. Even when I was a little kid, I always dreamed that I would play Serena in a final of a Grand Slam. Just the fact that it’s happening, I’m very happy about it. At the same time I feel like even though I should enjoy this moment, I should still think of it as another match. Yeah, I shouldn’t really think of her as, like, my idol. I should just try to play her as an opponent.” That approach to the biggest encounter of her budding career served her well.

Perhaps it was a display of nerves at the start, but each player overcame a 0-30 deficit in her opening game. However, with Serena’s forehand flying long, Osaka had a break point. With the American miscuing with a double fault, Osaka went up 2-1. Soon, with an ace at 40-15, the Japanese protégé confirmed the break. In the next game, applying pressure with her groundstrokes, Osaka had Serena facing break point. When the American’s backhand found the net, Osaka secured a 4-1 cushion. With a forehand volley winner, Williams secured her initial break point. Coolly with an ace, Osaka was at deuce. With Serena failing to capitalize on another break point, Osaka built a 5-1 lead. Visibly flummoxed, Serena with the support of a boisterous crowd climbed out of 0-30 hole to hold. Yet, Osaka would not be denied. Up 40-15, she saw Serena dump a forehand return into the net to cap the opening set.

Osaka’s best previous showing at a major was the fourth round at this year’s Australian Open where she succumbed to world number one, Simona Halep. Thus far, her first and only career title came this year at Indian Wells. Her next tournament at the Miami Open, she stunned Serena in the early rounds who had been back from maternity leave. But, since March, Osaka’s results had been subpar. Although Osaka had a record 31-0 after winning the first set, this was the big league. The experience chasm which divided these two in terms of experience couldn’t be starker. However, the combination of Serena’s dire 38% first serve stat, her 2-7 mark in major finals after surrendering the first set, the last comeback being 13 years ago at the Australian Open, underlined that Osaka had history on her side.

In the second game with Osaka serving, Serena got saddled with a coaching violation by chair umpire Carlos Ramos. Coach Patrick Mouratoglou’s hand gesture, signaling for her to move forward caught the umpire’s eye but was not seen by Williams. Perhaps this infraction was the fuel Serena needed. Up to now, Osaka was a wizard at making break points disappear, 16 in her previous two matches, 13 alone in the semifinals against Madison Keyes and two already today. With a backhand return winner, Serena had her fourth break point of the fourth game. As Osaka’s backhand landed long, Serena finally had chiseled a 3-1 edge. But an ace for 30-15, followed by successive double faults and a backhand error was how Serena’s service game unfolded. She responded by smashing a racket. Tagged with a second code violation, Serena did not realize that it meant an automatic loss of point. With an ace at 40-0, Osaka comfortably held for 3-3. Next, with a backhand up the line return winner, the Japanese hopeful was at 30-40, she connected with a forehand up the line pass winner to seal the break for 4-3.

Incensed, Serena could not let go of what she viewed as an injustice. During the changeover, she labeled Ramos a “thief”. He retaliated by giving her a third code violation for verbal abuse. This time, the consequence was a loss of a game, “I called you a thief because you stole a point from me”. In shock and disbelief, Williams resorted to the referee. But, what was done, could not be undone, Osaka was awarded a game for 5-3 without striking a ball. After Serena’s love hold, it was Osaka’s turn to be under pressure. With an ace, the youngster arrived at 40-15. On her second try, with an unreturnable serve, Osaka closed out the match.

There was no outward excessive celebration by Osaka who had defeated her idol on the largest stage in tennis. Her reaction is reflective of her personality according to her coach Sascha Bajin, Serena’s former hitting partner, who began working with her last November “I think everybody. . .on this planet can learn a lot from that girl in order to maintain that innocence. I believe the more open we are and the more honest we are and show vulnerability sometimes and who we truly are, the better this world is going to be. And all the fake emotions, I’m not a fan of it. I believe that, yeah, she’s a star for that.” Serena hugged her at net and told Ramos “you owe me an apology”.

During the trophy ceremony, Serena did her utmost to shift the spotlight onto Osaka where it belonged “I don’t want to be rude, but I don’t want to do questions. I want to tell you guys, she played well, this is her first grand slam. I know you guys were here rooting for me. Let’s make this the best moment we can. . .Let’s give everyone the credit where the credit is due. . . Congratulations Naomi. No more booing.”

Serena realized the gravity of the situation “I felt at one point bad because I’m crying and she’s crying. . . she just won. I’m not sure if they were happy tears or they were just sad tears because of the moment.. .this isn’t how I felt when I won my first Grand Slam. . . I definitely don’t want her to feel like that.”

Certainly, an awkward time for this 20 year old who with serenity and poise had a fairy tale outcome, but not quite the finish she dreamt of “I know everyone was cheering for her. I’m sorry it had to end like this, [with tears streaming down], I just want to say thank you for watching the match. It was always my dream to play Serena in the U.S. Open final. I am glad I was able to do that. I’m grateful I was able to play with you, [turns to Serena and bows], thank you” Osaka displayed mixed emotions “I know she really wanted to have the 24th grand slam. Everyone knows, it’s on the commercials everywhere. When I step on the court, I feel like a different person. I’m not a Serena fan. I’m just a tennis player playing another tennis player. But when we hugged at net, I felt like a kid again. . .When I was growing up, I did a whole report on her in the third grade. [I said] I want to be like her”.

Following her win, she had a touching embrace with her mother “she sacrificed a lot for me. It means a lot for her to come and watch my matches because she normally doesn’t do that. All we are missing is my dad, he doesn’t physically watch my matches, he walks around I will see him later”

Serena is no stranger to controversy at the U.S. Open. In 2004 in the quarterfinals against Jennifer Capriati, at least three blatant ruling errors, including an overrule by the chair umpire on a clear out ball, likely cost her the match. Those flubs ushered in the era of electronic review. In the 2009 semifinals down 4-6, 5-6, a second serve foot fault at 15-30 brought on a harangue which resulted in a second code violation and point penalty to hand Kim Clijsters the match. Serena viewed the coaching violation as unfair “one thing I love about tennis is being out there and it’s the one time I don’t want to hear anyone tell me anything. It’s my moment of peace. You have to figure it out and you have to problem solve.” For Williams, the game penalty was a gender issue “I’ve seen other men call other umpires several things. For me to say thief and for him to take a game, it made me feel like it was sexist remark. He’s never taken a game from a man because they said thief. It blows my mind. But, I’m going to continue to fight for women. . .[Alize] Cornet should be able to take off her shirt without getting a fine, it’s outrageous”.

The tennis world is warming up to this newly minted champion, the youngest U.S. Open titlist since Maria Sharapova at age 19 in 2006. Osaka contributes her success to Bajin in turning her from a top 60 player to a top 10 competitor, her ranking will shoot up from 19 to 7. “Sascha is a really nice person, he’s really positive and upbeat. I think for me that’s really important because I tend to be down on myself a lot”.

Has Serena’s behavior soiled her image in her eyes in any way? Osaka cited “I don’t know what happened on the court. For me, I will always remember the Serena that I love, It doesn’t change anything. . .She was really nice at net and on the podium. So I don’t really see what would change”.

Although born in Japan, Osaka represents the quintessential American story. Born to immigrant parents, father is Haitian, mother from Japan. She grew up in Brooklyn and trains in South Florida. If she continues to emulate her idol’s play on court, with her humble demeanor, the U.S. will want to adopt her as their own considering she holds dual citizenpship.

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Bartoli Joins the Majors Club by Winning Wimbledon

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Bartoli Joins the Majors Club by Winning Wimbledon



Without questions, this denouement to the ladies’ draw was not foreseen as the fortnight commenced. Regardless, Marion Bartoli and Sabine Lisicki found themselves contesting for the big prize at Wimbledon. Bartoli made the most of her second trip to the final at the All-England Club, crushing the German 6-1, 6-4 to lift her inaugural majors’ trophy.

In 2007, Bartoli, the 18th seed, surprised Justine Henin in the semifinals to reach her maiden major final. Bartoli went down to Venus Williams, the 23rd seed and outright favorite.

Lisicki, another 23rd seed, was pegged as the oddsmaker’s choice because of booming serve and powerful forehand despite making her debut in a major final. On this occasion, Bartoli did not intend to stick to the script.

With Maria Sharapova ousted in the second round, Victoria Azarenka forced to forfeit her second round match due to injury and 2011 winner Petra Kvitova bounced in the quarterfinals, Bartoli was the vestige of a bottom half of the draw left in disarray.

Not only did the Frenchwoman win all her matches in two sets, the highest seed she battled was Sloane Stephens at 17. Prior to this tournament, Bartoli’s showings this season were three quarterfinals, all non-majors.

Moreover, Bartoli’s last title was in Osaka in 2011. That same year, Bartoli prevailed on grass in Eastbourne, stunned Serena Williams at Wimbledon in the fourth round only to be bounced in the quarterfinals by the woman she faced today.

The anxiety was palpable as each competitor double faulted on break point her first time serving. However, with her first ace, Bartoli subsequently held for a 2-1 lead.

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