Serena Williams lost it.
Then, she lost the US Open final 2018.
We're being told, by television pundits, that it's unfortunate this match may be remembered for its controversy, that Naomi Osaka's win will be less about her dominant game and more about Serena Williams' clash with chair umpire Carlos Ramos.
Count me out.
I watched the entire match, from the first point to the last, from the same spot on my black couch, as the air turned nippy and the skies stained a darker hue outside this September evening.
I'll remember this match for Osaka's cool, her (Japanese) minimalism — even in a high tension, high stakes situation at the age of 20, her clenched fist between the split second when her opponent missed her first serve and readied for the second, for her irreverent corkscrew hair dyed blond at the very edge, her telling Tom Rinaldi that she'd like to take a "different approach" to his question and then hitting it out of the park, her turning to Serena Williams and telling her softly, in a schoolgirlish sentence: "Thank you for playing with me", and finally, that sweet bow — all delivered with monk-like calm.
As for the controversy, I'll remember it for the politics of language. That Serena Williams, a tennis court and a coach are involved are almost incidental.
"I have never cheated in my life! You owe me an apology," Serena snapped when chair umpire Carlos Ramos first warned her about "receiving coaching". As the cameras zoomed in on Williams, we knew this wasn't about to end soon. She smashed her racquet, she snarled at Ramos again: "You stole a point from me. You're a thief, too."
"Verbal abuse," Ramos called.
We agreed. Serena cried. The crowd booed. Someone from the US Open commentary box weighed in: "I didn't hear anything there that counts as verbal abuse."
It was Chris Evert.
"What’s all the fuss about? She called the chair umpire a thief, it is verbal abuse and end of the story, why so much drama? But we never thought Chris Evert would say this. I'm kind of stunned," agreed childhood tennis buddies watching the match in other US cities.
And about that visual which started it all. Williams' coach, Patrick Mouratoglou, acknowledged he had tried to signal Williams. We all saw it too in the replays — where he's signalling with his hands something that seems to say rush the net or pull Osaka to the net or whatever. Let's get this straight: all tennis players get coached from the sidelines in so many ways. Mouratoglou did it in a more obvious way, tennis coaches around the world have more subtle ways too. During the match, tense coaches and player teams employ a range of approaches. Osaka's father paces the outer realms of the court, he doesn't watch the match, some carry prayer beads, some actually signal emergent strategy by sheer force of habit. Coaches around the world do it all the time. Not a big deal.
If Serena Williams did not "see" her coach "coaching" her, did she receive coaching? Equally, if she called the chair umpire a thief, does it or does it not amount to verbal abuse?
If some people think it does and some think it doesn't and instead boo the chair umpire, what does that do to the quality of Naomi Osaka's triumph?
Those are the kind of question marks Naomi Osaka relishes, the ones that aren't spun from familiar scripts.
"Do you remember the last time you double-bagelled an opponent?" a reporter asked her this week. "It was you, in my dreams," she replied.
Against a rich, mustard backdrop, a 20-year-old Japanese woman's name has already been embossed on the US Open longlist of champions: N. Osaka, it reads.
When I see that name on a Grand Slam draw next time, I'll know what to expect: Zero drama, 100 percent tennis.
And that charming bow.
Updated Date: Sep 09, 2018 08:34:33 IST