The bizarre scenario that played out during the U.S. Open final between Serena Williams and Naomi Osaka is so deeply unfortunate for any number of reasons.
Let's start with the 20-year-old Osaka, who played a terrific match to win her first major, outplaying her childhood idol to win 6-2, 6-4. Undoubtedly, though, the story that resonates from the match will be the controversy involving Williams and chair umpire Carlos Ramos.
In the first set, Ramos issued Williams a warning after her coach, Patrick Mouratoglou, appeared to encourage her to approach the net more. (For what it's worth, Mouratoglou admitted to coaching, but said "100% of coaches" in "100% of matches" act similarly.)
This in itself was ironic, as Williams is famously indifferent to coaching. Say what you want about Serena, but it's never been an issue with her. Williams was incensed at the warning, telling Ramos, "I've never cheated in my life," and repeatedly demanding an apology from him.
Then, after being broken to get back on serve in the second set, Williams smashed her racquet in frustration. Normally this would only result in a warning, but because Williams had already received the first warning, she was docked a point.
On a later changeover, Williams said, "You're a thief, too," to Ramos, who then issued a verbal abuse penalty to Williams. Because she had already been docked a point, the next penalty was for a full game, which gave Osaka a 5-3 lead in the second set.
Williams continued her tirade against Ramos, saying: "You know how many other men do things. ... there are a lot of men who say a lot of things, and because they are men, nothing happens to them."
It was a dark scar on what should have been a glorious day for Osaka. In the post-match trophy presentation, Osaka was in tears while Williams comforted her.
A lot of us immediately thought to Williams' outbursts in 2009 and 2011, but I would submit that this was totally different. She was deeply upset, for certain, but she was also quite composed.
One thing that gets lost in all this is that Ramos was not accusing Williams of cheating at all. Accusing a coach of cheating is not accusing a player of cheating; the penalty falls on the player, but it's the coaches' conduct that is being called out.
Let's pause another moment and give all sort of credit to Osaka, who announced herself this entire tournament but was dealt an impossibly difficult hand on Saturday. First, she was playing Serena Williams in front of a crowd that adores her, which is mighty in and of itself. Then, to have to finish a match in that sort of circumstances—she showed as much in winning this match while the entire crowd was booing as she did in the first set, when she profoundly outplayed a 23-time Grand Slam champion.
Overall, it's a pity for the sport. But Serena will be back. And so will Osaka.