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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Red Gerard parts with gold medal (briefly) as he returns to slopestyle

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Red Gerard‘s gold medal is damaged. His desire to compete remains in tact.

“The gold medal is, honestly, not doing too good,” Gerard said in a recent interview in New York City.

The 18-year-old snowboarder then unfurled the medal from his pocket and pointed to an adorning clip.

“It took a little beating,” he said. “It broke. We’re going to get it fixed.”

Like many Rio Olympic medalists, Gerard said he planned to send his medal off for repairs. It is a historic one.

Nine months ago, the sixth of seven kids from a Colorado snowboarding family became the first American to take gold in PyeongChang. He became the youngest Olympic snowboarding champion and the youngest individual male U.S. Winter Olympic champion. Eighteen family members made their own headlines, partying at the bottom of the slopestyle course.

Gerard was an underdog in South Korea, not just in stature (not quite 5 and a half feet), but by his previous results. He had not made a podium at the X Games or U.S. Open. His two top-level wins came in California and Utah events without the top Canadians and Norwegians in the field.

Really, it was reminiscent of friend Sage Kotsenburg, whose second slopestyle win in nine years came at the event’s Olympic debut in Sochi. Kotsenburg entered seven contests in his follow-up season, according to World Snowboarding, then faded out of competition to focus on making snowboard films, ultimately announcing retirement at age 23 in 2017.

While Gerard also enjoys filming, he plans to carve a different path.

“I love doing contests,” he said, “and I love the exhilaration that you get from them.”

Gerard already competed in New Zealand in September, placing 21st in a big air event. His season begins in earnest in December with the Dew Tour in Breckenridge, Colo., then the X Games in January, world championships in Park City in February, plus the U.S. Open in Vail.

Maybe one of those days will be like the Olympics. Gerard credited his PyeongChang success to the course suiting him. He chose off-path features on the rail and jump sections that others ignored, not winning solely on the back of big tricks.

“Every contest, there’s a different person that wins, for the most part,” he said. “I’m super psyched that it just so happened for me, it was the Olympics.”

Minutes after winning in PyeongChang, Gerard said he didn’t know about 2022. He only knew that he wanted to do snowboard filming.

“I 100 percent want to go into 2022,” he said last month. “Definitely that’s on my list. But also filming is one step ahead for me right now. Filming is always something I’ve had a passion for. That’s my goal for next year, then after that I’ll go back to contests and focus more on that.”

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Ashley Wagner on competitive future, role as coach, and upcoming shows

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When Ashley Wagner finished the 2018 season, she made a promise to herself that she would live a little bit more of life. She moved across the country, from Los Angeles to Boston, and while she’s still on the ice every day skating and participating in a slate of upcoming shows, she’s now added to her resume as a coach.

We caught up with the three-time national champion and World silver medalist. (Questions and answers lightly edited for clarity.)

How did you get involved in the Scott Hamilton CARES Foundation show, Scott Hamilton & Friends

I have actually performed in Scott’s show a couple of times but it’s always during the Grand Prix season, so I haven’t been able to skate in it for the past few years because I needed to focus on my training. It was one of those things where I feel like he heard that I was taking the Grand Prix season off and he reached out to me and asked if I wanted to take part. It was such an easy yes. It’s a really great show. He does a fantastic job at putting together the golden era of figure skating shows. This is how figure skating shows are meant to be. You always know that you’re going to be skating in something that is quality.

The last time I spoke to Scott, he said that even though he says this every year, this show is gonna be the best ever.

I mean, yeah, ‘cause I’m skating in it! [laughing] No, it’s gonna be great. I’m really excited. He passed along my music to me and he sent me an email. He’s like, I heard this song and I thought it was just made for you right away. It’s nice to know that he goes through all of the music selections and really caters it to his show. I think that’s a detail that makes this show so much different than anything else. The music is selected for each athlete so you know that’s it’s a cohesive show. It should be great. We have a couple Olympic medalists. This is the best show you’re gonna see, no joke.

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Working on something new today!🎵🎶

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What’s different about skating to live music compared to a track?

Live music is a lot harder to skate to because you can have an artist up on the stage and maybe they’re feeling a note and you’re in a spiral. All of a sudden you’re like, okay you need to end this note! You’re singing it a lot longer than I’m used to! There are a lot more variables.

It’s like watching skating live versus watching it on TV. When you’re in the arena and the skater is in front of you, you can feel the emotion and the energy that they’re putting out in a performance. I think that skating to live music, you get that same kind of sense. You really get to experience all of the heart that a performer is putting into their music. And that combined with live skating I think it just makes for such a magical recipe. You just really get to experience skating, and experience the music.

How’s life in Boston?

I love it here! This was the best decision that I could’ve made. I’m so happy here. I promised myself after 2018 that I was going to give myself the opportunity to live a little bit of life. I’m still on the ice and skating every single day. But this city just has so much to offer and I feel like I’m really getting to experience a lot more than I was able to in LA. I’m so happy here.

Have you caught yourself adopting any of your coach Rafael Arutunian’s mannerisms when you’re coaching?

Raf is such a loud coach, and he gets away with it because he’s a big Russian man. But as soon as I raise my voice I look ridiculous. It’s been a balance, because it’s a different level of skating here than I’m used to. I’m used to professional, high-level skating and coming here it’s a bunch of kids who are on their way up. Which is really exciting, but it’s definitely been an adjustment for me just to kind of reel back a little bit and not turn into Rafael.

It’s a different phase in their careers.

Exactly. They’re not quite at the level where I can just scream at them to skate a long program. Because they’re 12 years old and I can’t scream at kids.

And they have parents.

And parents! I have to deal with parents. That’s the scariest part of figure skating. I haven’t had to deal with parents since I was 18. That’s been a big change for me.

You did some commentary work for NHK Trophy in Japan. How was that?

It was so much fun and also terrifying. The first event that I covered was the pairs’ short program, so it was definitely a sink or swim moment. I think pairs skating is like the moon. I don’t understand it. It’s so different from anything that I do in my skating life. It was terrifying. I spent the first warm up in a blackout. And then finally was like, ‘okay, I can do this!’ I’m really glad that I got to see what it’s like on the other side. It’s way harder than it sounds.

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Adulting with Andrea

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Did you have a lot of homework?

I did. It was tough because I didn’t really know what I was walking into. I was working with Andrea Joyce so it was like how communication was gonna go, what her role was going to be, what I was responsible for. Once I experienced that I knew how to prepare myself a lot more.

You already mentioned you’re taking the Grand Prix season off. Can you say anything else about your competitive future?

Right now, to be completely honest, I’m not entirely sure what I want to do. Watching the ladies’ event [at NHK Trophy] in Japan, it was one of those situations where definitely maybe take a step back and think, okay, in order to even be competitive on the scene right now, you need to be throwing out technically perfect programs with two triple-triples, and if you’re not even thinking about a triple Axel, then maybe you should step aside.

It’s one of those things where sometimes it’s best to just take a step back and let skating progress the way it’s going to. I watched Carolina Kostner and what she was able to do toward the later part of her career and I really admire that. I think that there’s something to be said about coming out and putting out quality and still being able to perform that doesn’t entirely write off someone who’s not trying the technically most difficult program. But it’s a lot of work. It’s one of those things where I have to start considering whether or not it’s worth it.

As a reminder, you can watch the ISU Grand Prix Series live and on-demand with the ‘Figure Skating Pass’ on NBC Sports Gold. Go to NBCsports.com/gold/figure-skating to sign up for access to every ISU Grand Prix and championship event, as well as domestic U.S. Figure Skating events throughout the season. NBC Sports Gold gives subscribers an unprecedented level of access on more platforms and devices than ever before.

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