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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Marvel superheroes inspire Bradie Tennell, Starr Andrews

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Bradie Tennell and Starr Andrews have something in common beyond their obvious figure skating talents: both skaters look to Marvel superheroes for inspiration.

The 20-year-old Tennell, who opened her 2018-19 international season with a big win over two-time world champion Yevgenia Medvedeva of Russia at the Autumn International Classic in Oakville, Ontario, counts Iron Man and Spider-Man as her favorites.

Believe it or not, Iron Man – also known as Tony Stark – figures into Tennell’s free skate to “Romeo and Juliet.”

“After I land the triple salchow toward the end of my program, I go down on one knee and do what I call my Iron Man pose, because that’s what Iron Man (played by Robert Downey Jr.) does in the first Avengers movie,” she said.

Summoning superhuman strength worked. Tennell had a personal-best free skate in Oakville. But in other ways, she’s the opposite of her hero: Iron Man survives his adventures largely be wearing a special suit of armor, while Tennell is all about dropping her guard this season and being more expressive on the ice.

“I believe in myself a lot more,” she said. “I don’t think I’m as timid. I’m really working on not being as shy, just kind of letting my personality come through in everything.”

Andrews, 17, is inspired by the noble and determined Black Panther, depicted in the 2018 film by Chadwick Boseman.

“There is always a challenge and you always have to fight to get what you want,” she said.

“I wanted something different this year, I definitely wanted no lyrics, and an African theme,” she added. “When I watched Black Panther, I said, ‘Yeah, I want something like (the music in) this’ and Derrick (Delmore) pulled up some music.”

Delmore, who coaches Andrews in Los Angeles, wracked his brain to find the right material. Ultimately, he choreographed her free to a medley he calls “African Tribal Xotica.”

“The music is from five different things,” he said. “She saw the movie, loved it, and sent me some music from that movie she cut herself that I didn’t love. She was inspired to do something in that genre. I finally thought of music I used a few years back for another skater, and I played it for her, and as soon as it came on she said, ‘Oh, this is what I want.’”

What Andrews wants now is a triple axel. She attempted the three-and-a-half revolution jump in her free skate in Oakville, but it was downgraded (judged short of rotation) by the technical panel. Still, she placed a respectable seventh in a tough international field.

“I’m excited for the day I get it,” Andrews said. “I just have to keep working on it. One day I will land it and will be super-confident and happy.  It’s not new to me, I’ve been working on it for a while. That little extra effort, and then I’ll land it.”

Only two other senior U.S. ladies – Tonya Harding, back in the early 1990s, and Mirai Nagasu at the Pyeongchang Olympics in February – have landed the jump in international competition, but Andrews believes it is becoming almost commonplace.  While Tennell and Andrews were competing in Oakville, Japanese teenager Rika Kihira landed two triple axels, including one in combination with a triple toe, at Ondrej Nepela Trophy.

“There are so many more people doing it know. I feel like it’s not surprising for women to do it,” Andrews said. “They are doing it in junior and even in advanced novice, like Alysa Liu (at the Asian Open), which was amazing.”

Delmore supports his student’s ambition, with a few caveats.

“Right now, I want her to get used to doing the axel,” he said. “I want it to be a regular part of her competitive experience, so she knows how to keep going when it doesn’t go well, and hopefully when she gets it, she knows what it’s like to have that amazing moment and to keep going.”

MORE: 12-year-old is third U.S. woman to land triple Axel internationally

Yuzuru Hanyu wins Autumn Classic despite shaky performance

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Yuzuru Hanyu won his third Autumn Classic International crown in Oakville, Ontario on Saturday, but it was a bumpy ride.

The two-time Olympic champion’s debut of his “Origin” free skate, inspired by Yevgeni Plushenko’s famous “Tribute to Njinsky” program, had many fine elements: opening quadruple loop and toe loop jumps, plus two triple axels in the program’s second half; a pair of superb closing spins with fittingly baroque positions; and promising step and choreography sequences that preserved Plushenko’s flair, while adding a touch more refinement and control.

But a face-forward fall on a quad salchow, followed by a popped quad toe, meant Hanyu’s 165.91 points put him second in the free skate to his 16-year-old training partner, Junhwan Cha of South Korea. His total score, including Friday’s short program, was 263.65 points, just under four points higher than Cha’s second-place total.

At this point in the season, many other skaters – not including Plushenko – would have shrugged  off the imperfections in the challenging program and been happy to put a few miles on the choreography. But the 23-year-old Hanyu’s perfectionism runs year-round.

“My first competition of the season is always this level, unfortunately,” he said, as translated from Japanese. “I wanted to skate my short and free without any regrets here, and I was not able to do that.”

Hanyu likely remembers this event last season, when a mistake-riddled free skate put him second to longtime rival Javier Fernandez of Spain. This time around, the Japanese superstar, who trains at Toronto’s Cricket Skating and Curling Club under Brian Orser and Tracy Wilson, was especially disappointed that his jump glitches meant he could not attempt a quad-triple axel sequence, a combination that might have been worth some 20 points.

“I was not strong enough to skate this program yet,” he said. “I feel fine, I am not injured. Another program, maybe (last season’s) ‘Seimei,’ I might have been able to do well, but not this program. I am just not ready.”

Just as he did after Friday’s short program, where a botched spin cost him several points, Hanyu vowed to work harder.

“This is where I am right now, and I need to practice more,” he said.

Hanyu has plenty of time: his first Grand Prix event is in Finland on November 2.

The skating world may best remember this event as the week Cha came into his own. The Korean teen, who landed a quad salchow in his short on Friday, hit a quad toe to start his free to “Romeo and Juliet” – just the second time he has landed the jump in competition. While his quad salchow was judge under rotated, he went on to land two triple-triple combinations and two triple axels, all done with style and maturity beyond his years. The program earned 169.22 points to win the day.

“Last season, I didn’t skate so well. I had some hip and back (injuries) and boot problems,” Cha, who also said he had recently had a growth spurt, said. “Now I feel much stronger, and I have been working hard.”

Asked if he had a skating idol – perhaps his training partner, Hanyu – Cha demurred.

“I don’t have just one idol,” he said. “I like many different skaters, for different reasons. I will like one skater for his jumps; another skater for his spins.”

MORE: Tennell upsets Medvedeva at Autumn Classic

Canada’s Roman Sadovsky, fourth after the short program, stepped up to win the bronze medal with 233.86 points after landing two quads, a salchow and toe, in his free skate.

Jason Brown may be disappointed in his fourth-place finish here, but it cannot have come as a big surprise: the 2015 U.S. champion has said that since moving to Toronto this spring to train under Orser and Wilson, he has been re-learning his jump technique. He called the move “a four-year project.”

“I cannot speak more highly of Brian, Tracy, Lee (Barkell) and Karen (Preston), the whole team at Cricket Club,” Brown, 23, said. “They have been really been patient with me and worked with me methodically. … We’re starting from the ground up. Each day I’m learning something new, each day they are helping me work through something, whether that me a mental thing, physically getting a jump,  or the pacing of a program.”

The debut of Brown’s free to a medley of Simon & Garfunkel’s “Old Friends” and “Hazy Days of Winter” was bittersweet: his blades sung during spins, step sequences and transitions, but the jumps weren’t there. An opening quad salchow was doubled; a triple axel, popped into a single. He earned 144.33 points to place fifth in the free and fourth overall with 233.23.

Wilson, though, said they are just getting started.

“Let’s face it, he is a brilliant skater and he’s gotten close to the top of the world,” Wilson said of Brown, who was fourth in the world in 2015. “It’s a fine line trying to find room for improvement, and so that’s what we are trying to do. We are throwing a lot at him. We’re going to pull back a little.”

“What he brings, though, cannot be ignored,” she added. “My husband can be in the rink and know nothing about skating, and be mesmerized by what Jason does. He could teach clinics for every step sequence and position details. He is integral to what the sport needs.”

MORE: Kaitlyn Weaver, Andrew Poje debut free dance tribute to Denis Ten