Serena Williams loses to Naomi Osaka in U.S. Open final after umpire spat

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NEW YORK — Serena Williams berated the chair umpire, calling him a thief and his punishment sexist. The penalty was controversial, but the defeat thorough.

This U.S. Open final promised to be memorable. It certainly was.

Naomi Osaka played brilliantly in the biggest match of her life, winning 6-2, 6-4 in her first Grand Slam final at age 20.

For so long, Osaka dreamed of playing her idol Williams in a major final. Not just playing, but winning. That became reality on Saturday, but not in a way should could have ever imagined.

Osaka, who moved from Japan to Long Island with her family at age 3, denied Williams a record-tying 24th Grand Slam singles title (and first as a mom).

She became the first Japanese player to win a major. It shouldn’t be her last. She did so fearlessly, showcasing the shot-making that put her into the final dropping just one set in six matches the last two weeks.

Most notably, it came after Williams screamed at chair umpire Carlos Ramos after she was docked a point penalty for two code violations (illegal coaching from the stands and smashing her racket) in the second set.

Williams was then docked a game penalty for a third code violation, verbal abuse after calling Ramos “a thief” over the first violation. At the time she was down a break, 4-3, in the second set. The penalty made it 5-3 in favor of Osaka.

Williams won the next game on her serve to cut it to 5-4. Osaka then closed out the championship on her serve.

There was no scream. No drop to the court. No fist pump or racket toss. Osaka tugged at her visor and jaunted to the net.

“It just still didn’t really feel that real,” said Osaka, who has admired Williams for so long that she did a third-grade report on her 12 years ago. “So for me it just felt like a normal match just walking up to the net. But it’s Serena that’s on the other side. She hugged me, and it was really awesome.

“When I step onto the court, I feel like a different person, right? I’m not a Serena fan. I’m just a tennis player playing another tennis player. But then when I hugged her at the net, I felt like a little kid again.”

Williams received that first code violation when Ramos deemed that her coach, Patrick Mouratoglou, gave Williams illegal advice from her box at Arthur Ashe Stadium.

Early in the second set, Mouratoglou appeared to make a hand gesture looking at Williams suggesting she move closer to the net during points. Williams denied she received the coaching, telling Ramos between points:

“One thing I’ve never done is cheat. If he gives me a thumbs up, he’s telling me to come on. We don’t have any code, and I know you don’t know that. And I understand why you may have thought that was coaching, but I’m telling you it’s not. I don’t cheat to win. I’d rather lose.”

MORE: Serena Williams’ history of U.S. Open episodes with chair umpires, lineswoman

Mouratoglou said after the match that he was coaching, but he didn’t think Williams even saw it.

“I was [coaching], like 100 percent of the coaches on 100 percent of the matches,” Mouratoglou said after the match on ESPN, adding that he had never before been called for a coaching violation. “So we have to stop this hypocrite thing. [Osaka’s coach] Sascha [Bajin] was coaching every point, too. It’s strange because this chair umpire was the chair umpire for most of the finals of Rafa [Nadal], and Toni [Nadal] is coaching every single point.”

Later in the second set, Williams received a second code violation for smashing her racket after being broken on serve. She approached Ramos’ chair after she realized she had been, by rule, docked a point for two code violations.

“This is unbelievable,” she said, approaching Ramos. “Every time I play here, I have problems [Williams had memorable arguments with chair umpires in 2004 and 2011 U.S. Open losses, plus told a lineswoman she would stuff a tennis ball down her throat in a 2009 defeat.]. … I didn’t get coaching. I didn’t get coaching. I didn’t get coaching. You need to make an announcement that I didn’t get coaching. I don’t cheat. I didn’t get coaching. How can you say that? … You owe me an apology. You owe me an apology. I have never cheated in my life. I have a daughter, and I stand for what’s right for her. I’ve never cheated. You owe me an apology. You will never do another one of my matches.”

After Osaka went up 4-3, Williams again spoke at Ramos from her chair, saying, “You stole a point from me. You’re a thief, too.”

Ramos gave Williams a third violation for verbal abuse, which constitutes a game penalty, putting her down 5-3 and on the brink of defeat.

“Are you kidding me?” Williams repeated. “Because I said you’re a thief? Because you stole a point from me. But I’m not a cheater. I told you to apologize to me.”

Williams then asked for the tournament referee Brian Earley to come out. Earley and WTA supervisor Donna Kelso heard Williams out. She told them as the crowd booed:

“That’s not right. You know me. You know my character. And that’s not right. This is not fair. This has happened to me too many times. This is not fair. This is not fair. To lose a game for saying that is not fair. … You know how many other men do things that are much worse than that? This is not fair. This is unbelievable. … There are men out here that do a lot worse, but because I’m a woman, you’re going to take this away from me? That is not right. I know you can’t admit, but I know you know it’s not right. I know you can’t change it, but I’m just saying that’s not right. I get the rules, but I’m just saying it’s not right. It happened to me at this tournament every single year that I play is just not fair. That’s all I have to say. It’s not fair.”

Williams added in a post-match press conference: “I’m here fighting for women’s rights and for women’s equality and for all kinds of stuff. For me to say ‘thief,’ and for him to take a game, it made me feel like it was a sexist remark. He’s never taken a game from a man because they said ‘thief.'”

After the match, Williams pointed up to Ramos and said, again, “You owe me an apology.” Osaka sat and cried as the crowd booed while Ramos came down from his chair.

Ten minutes later, the trophy presentation. More crowd boos. Osaka pulled her black visor down as tears continued to stream. Williams put her right arm around Osaka and her left hand on Osaka’s elbow. She said a few words to Osaka as the 20-year-old wiped away a tear. Osaka smiled.

“I felt at one point bad because I’m crying and she’s crying,” Williams said in the later press conference. “You know, she just won. I’m not sure if they were happy tears or they were just sad tears because of the moment. I felt like, wow, this isn’t how I felt when I won my first Grand Slam [in 1999]. I was like, wow, I definitely don’t want her to feel like that.

“Yeah, maybe it was the mom in me that was like, listen, we got to pull ourselves together here.”

Williams was the first to speak to the crowd.

“I don’t want to be rude, but I don’t want to do questions,” she said when asked to put the match in perspective. “I just want to tell you guys, she played well, and this is her first Grand Slam. … (crowd applause) … And I know you guys were here rooting, and I was rooting, too. But let’s make this the best moment we can, and we’ll get through it. Let’s give everyone the credit where credit’s due. Let’s not boo anymore. We’re going to get through this, and let’s be positive. So congratulations, Naomi. No more booing.

“I hope to continue to go and play here again. We’ll see. It’s been a tough year for me.”

Then Osaka was asked how the match compared to her dreams of playing Williams in a Grand Slam final.

“I’m going to sort of defer from your question, I’m sorry,” she said. “I know that everyone was cheering for her, and I’m sorry it had to end like this. I just want to say thank you for watching the match.”

It ended a stressful stretch that began Friday night.

“I just kept thinking about my match,” Osaka said later.

She tried to get her mind off it. Minutes before the match, she approached Novak Djokovic, who plays in Sunday’s final against Juan Martin del Potro.

She tried to say hello in Serbian to Djokovic, as she has learned a bit of the language from her coach, former Williams hitting partner Sascha Bajin. She didn’t think Djokovic understood what she said.

Then Osaka, immediately before taking the court for the biggest match of her life, her first Grand Slam final, told national TV that she was nervous.

Yet she dominated the first set, converting both of her break points and closing it out with a 117 mile-per-hour serve into Williams’ body. The most powerful player in history could only bat it awkwardly into the net.

“I was just thinking that I’ve watched Serena play so many times, that this is a really good opportunity to win my first major,” Osaka said afterward.

The second-set madness with Williams, the chair umpire and the tournament referee did nothing to deter Osaka.

“I didn’t know what was going on,” she said. “Since it was my first Grand Slam [final], I didn’t want to be overwhelmed too much, so I wasn’t really looking.”

Williams acknowledged Osaka was playing “really well” at the time. And that she would have “needed to do a lot” to change the trajectory of the match.

“There’s a lot I can learn from [Osaka] from this match,” Williams said.

U.S. OPEN: Scores | Men’s Draw | Women’s Draw

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Grigory Rodchenkov, Russian doping whistleblower, still lives in fear

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His head covered in a black balaclava, adjusting dark goggles obscuring his eyes, Grigory Rodchenkov grows anxious if any part of his face can be seen.

Exposing Russia’s state-sponsorship doping scheme forced Rodchenkov into hiding in the United States five years ago. Revealing his current identity is still too risky for the chemist turned whistleblower, even in a video interview from an undisclosed location.

“It’s my security measures because I have physical threats to be assassinated,” Rodchenkov told The Associated Press. “And I want to live.”

Evidence from Rodchenkov that has already turned Vladimir Putin‘s Russia into international sporting outcasts continues to be used in cases against athletes along with data from his former laboratory in Moscow.

“Putin, he is quite logical. He separates opposition in two ways — enemies … betrayers,” Rodchenkov said. “I am falling in the betrayers’ category and all betrayers should be beheaded, cut, dead. So there is no doubt that he wants me to be dead.”

It has not deterred him from documenting his life story in “The Rodchenkov Affair: How I Brought Down Putin’s Secret Doping Empire,” revisiting how he conspired with his country to corrupt sports and then tries to show contrition by turning star witness.

Rodchenkov was the brains behind the Duchess cocktail of anabolic steroids and cover-up that turned Russia into a medal machine at the home Olympics in Sochi in 2014, topping the standings with 13 gold medals before disqualifications.

Russian spies ensured the Duchess would not be detected in doping tests as FSB agents used a hole in the wall of the Sochi laboratory to swap out the dirty samples with clean urine at night.

“For me, it was the end of doping control,” Rodchenkov said. “If we can do it, why others cannot?”

The doping cover-up extended beyond the Winter Olympics, into the Summer Games, Paralympics, world track and field championships and every major sport.

Some Russians were barred from competing at the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Summer Games and 2018 Pyeongchang Winter Games as the International Olympic Committee remains opposed to blanket bans on countries.

So Russian athletes can still compete on the international stage if they can show they are clean, despite a four-year ban from major international sporting events being imposed on the nation last year for a fresh cover-up, including tampering with data gained from Rodchenkov’s former lab in Moscow.

“Sport is a part of Putin’s politics and showing to the West how good Russia is,” Rodchenkov said. “You cannot trust Russia. You cannot trust the certification authorities, and (anti-doping) laboratories cannot be allowed to be restored within the foreseeable future.”

Especially now, according to Rodchenkov, following constitutional changes allowing Putin to run for two more six-year terms, in 2024 and 2030,

“Until 2036,” Rodchenkov said, “no trust.”

But why now trust Rodchenkov as he presents a virtuous image at odds with his deep collusion with the state to cheat?

“When you are laboratory director and you have 50 employees and you are reporting to your high ups at the ministry, I could not even think about morals,” he said, dismissing concerns about any long-term damage to the health of athletes he allowed to be pumped with steroids.

“It’s extremely debatable and still ungrounded,” he said. “We see the generation who is now in the end of their lives of 70s and 80s, which are still … in a good physical condition after steroid programs.”

Go back four decades and Rodchenkov was starting out in a Soviet system learning how to manipulate doping controls.

“I had honestly, I’m sorry, but I had huge feelings of accomplishment,” he said. “Those athletes I helped to (win) were extremely talented and I could not understand, with the coach, how he or she may lose to others. The only explanation was doping. Then using some programs, we won gold medals. Honestly it was like leveling the field.

“Again, ‘morals’ is maybe vocabulary from American life but not from Soviet and Russian. In (the) Soviet (Union) it was the Soviet moral, in Russia there is no morals.”

It helps when the athletes are compliant.

“This is the huge problem of the militarization of Russia sport,” Rodchenkov said. “They follow orders, they are disciplined but they cannot tell the truth because they have given the oath to the Russian state and consider foreigners as potential enemies or even actual enemies. That’s why in Russia there are three ways – lying, cheating and denying.”

Rodchenkov has had to convince the world he has shed those ways and is coming clean. More of the cases he helped to cover-up could soon come to light after the World Anti-Doping Agency shared data – of samples tested up to 2015, and tampering that continued into 2019 – that was retrieved from the Moscow testing lab at the heart of the state-backed doping program.

“The problem is that the people from outside cannot understand what is going on inside sports,” he said. “Only whistleblowers could do that. But in corrupted countries you have to escape and we need to be preserved.”

For Rodchenkov that means living a life constantly in fear of being recognized as happened on a train in the US.

“It was a student,” he recalled. “I told him, `Forget you are meeting me, yes it’s me, don’t tell anyone.’ … I disappeared again.”

MORE: Russia track and field faces expulsion if it misses deadline

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Noah Lyles, more world champs race in Monaco; TV, live stream schedule

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Noah Lyles headlines a bevy of world champions slated for the first full-on Diamond League meet of the abbreviated track and field season, live on NBC Sports on Friday.

Monaco hosts the strongest fields of any meet since the world championships 10 months ago. Olympic Channel: Home of Team USA and NBC Sports Gold air coverage on Friday at 2 p.m. ET.

Reigning world champions include Lyles (200m), Grant Holloway (110m hurdles), Donavan Brazier (800m) and Sam Kendricks (pole vault), and those are just the Americans.

Swede Mondo Duplantis, who twice raised the pole vault world record in February, takes on Kendricks in Monaco. Distance stars Sifan Hassan, Hellen Obiri, Beatrice Chepkoech, Timothy Cheruiyot and Joshua Cheptegei dot the fields, too.

The Diamond League season was due to start in April, but the coronavirus pandemic halted large-gathering track meets until now. Repurposed versions of Diamond League meets in Oslo and Zurich were held the last two months with fewer events and athletes and some entrants racing from different countries.

After Monaco, more Diamond League meets are scheduled for Stockholm (Aug. 23), Lausanne (Sept. 2), Brussels (Sept. 4), Naples (Sept. 17), Doha (Sept. 25) and China (Oct. 17).

Here are the Monaco entry lists. Here’s the schedule of events (all times Eastern):

1:40 p.m. ET — Men’s Pole Vault
2:03 — Men’s 110m Hurdles
2:05 — Women’s High Jump
2:12 — Men’s 800m
2:17 — Women’s Triple Jump
2:19 — Women’s 5000m
2:42 — Men’s 400m Hurdles
2:50 — Women’s 100m
2:57 — Men’s 1500m
3:07 — Women’s 400m
3:13 — Men’s 5000m
3:32 — Men’s 200m
3:39 — Women’s 100m
3:47 — Men’s 3000m Steeplechase

Here are five events to watch (statistics via Tilastopaja.org):

Men’s Pole Vault — 1:40 p.m.
The top field event of the meet includes the reigning Olympic champion (Brazil’s Thiago Braz), reigning world champion (Kendricks) and the world-record holder (Duplantis, who must be the favorite here). Kendricks and Duplantis already went head-to-head this spring, competing virtually from respective home pole-vault setups. Kendricks took their first six head-to-heads, back when Duplantis was a teenager, but the Louisiana-born Swede won all four of their indoor duels in February. Duplantis is the clear Tokyo Olympic favorite until proven otherwise.

Men’s 800m — 2:12 p.m.
The top four from the 2019 World Championships are entered. Brazier, 23, caught fire the last year. He broke the American record to win the world title. He broke his own American indoor record in February. Then, last month, Brazier took 1.33 seconds off his 1500m personal best. Nobody in the Monaco field has beaten Brazier since the start of 2018.

Women’s 5000m — 2:19 p.m.
Ethiopian-born Dutchwoman Sifan Hassan in world champion at 1500m and 10,000m, but she’s lost four of five meetings with two-time world champion Hellen Obiri of Kenya at 5000m. Hassan appears to be gearing up to race the 5000m in Tokyo, though, saying last month her eye was on a 1500m-5000m Olympic double had the Games been held this year. The 1500m preliminary heats and the 5000m final are separated by about 12 hours at the Olympics next year. Also in this field: three-time Olympian and former American record holder Shannon Rowbury, set for her first Diamond League race in nearly three years and since the birth of daughter Sienna.

Men’s 1500m — 2:57 p.m.
Last we saw Kenyan Timothy Cheruiyot in a 1500m, he led wire-to-wire en route to a 2.12-second victory in the world championships final. Only one man has beaten Cheruiyot in three years, countryman Elijah Manangoi, who is provisionally suspended due to whereabouts failures. The Monaco field does include Norwegian Jakob Ingebrigtsen (second-fastest man of 2019), Ethiopian Yomif Kejelcha (indoor mile world-record holder), Pole Marcin Lewandowski (world bronze medalist) and Craig Engels (2019 U.S. champion who was 10th at worlds).

Men’s 200m — 3:32 p.m.
Lyles and younger brother Josephus Lyles go head-to-head for the first time since January 2017. Noah has lost just one outdoor 200m since placing fourth at the 2016 Olympic Trials coming out of high school. Josephus, primarily a 400m sprinter in his developmnt, last month took a half-second off a five-year-old 200m personal best. His new best time — 20.24 seconds — would have placed third at the 2019 USATF Outdoor Championships behind Noah (19.78) and Christian Coleman (20.02).

MORE: Trayvon Bromell’s return from destruction, death to sprinting

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