Serena Williams is a tennis phenomenon, dominating the sport for two decades even as she had a baby during that period. She will easily go down in history as one of the greatest tennis players ever. But earlier today, the 36-year old lost the final of the US Open 3-6,4-6 to 20-year Naomi Osaka for whom this was her first major final. But what was noteworthy was how ugly the match was.
With the score 1-1 in the second set, Williams was given a violation when the chair umpire ruled that she was being coached from the stands, which is against the rules. She denied that this had happened but this charge of cheating clearly rankled her because she kept expressing her anger at the umpire. When she smashed her racket in frustration after losing her serve to make the score 3-2 still in her favor, this on top of the earlier violation resulted in her being docked a point so that Osaka started the next set with a lead of 15-0 and she then went on to win the game to even the score at 3-3.
Williams got even angrier at the umpire and called him a liar and a thief which resulted in her being penalized an entire game for verbal abuse, giving a 4-3 lead to Osaka who then went on to win the set 6-4 and thus also the match.
Some in the crowd, which was heavily in favor of Williams, booed during the presentation at the end but, although in tears, Williams recovered enough to be gracious towards her opponent, saying:
“I don’t want to be rude. She play well. This is her first grand slam. Let’s make this the best moment we can. Let’s give everyone credit where it’s due. Congratulations Naomi. No more booing.”
Athletes who perform at this high level are often under great pressure and since they tend to be intense people, they can get angry and frustrated when things don’t go their way. But Williams is a veteran who has been in high-pressure situations many, many times before and she would have known the consequences of her actions. Usually they know just how far they can go to express displeasure without incurring penalties and then put it behind them and continue. Losing an entire game because of a penalty at such a critical stage seems like an enormous lapse in judgment on her part.