Sandra Harwitt, Special for USA TODAY Sports
Published 10:24 p.m. ET Sept. 8, 2018 | Updated 2:55 a.m. ET Sept. 9, 2018
Naomi Osaka stunned Serena Williams to win the US Open, but Williams’ heated dispute with the chair umpire overshadowed the result.
NEW YORK — When Naomi Osaka started the year she was a talented 20-year-old ranked No. 68 on the WTA computer with a bright future ahead.
No one knew that 2018 would be when the future became the present. But this is the year she sealed her reputation as a Grand Slam champion and a top-10 star.
On Monday morning, when she awakes with the US Open trophy in her possession, she’ll weigh in as the No. 7 player in the world. She’s also the first Japanese citizen – man or woman – to win a Grand Slam title.
And she did it by beating her childhood idol, Serena Williams, who won her first of 23 Grand Slam titles here in 1999, when Osaka was not quite 2 years old.
It’s a shame the spotlight was on Williams and not Osaka when the trophy was handed out and the boos at Arthur Ashe Stadium finally had abated, at Williams’ request. Many believe Osaka was robbed of a true celebration.
Whether it was because Williams always was her role model or not, Osaka is too classy to say her first moment of glory in the sport was forever spoiled if that was how she felt. She also insisted she was mostly unaware of everything that was happening on the court, claiming it was too loud to follow.
Osaka’s performance to earn a 6-2, 6-4 win over Williams was mature in play as well as composure. In seven matches played en route to the title she only dropped one set and a total of 34 games.
During the second set of the final, Williams, obviously annoyed at herself for being outplayed by a Grand Slam final neophyte, lost her cool and childishly whined. The result of three outbursts – reactions to being called for violations on coaching, smashing a racket and verbal abuse of chair umpire Carlos Ramos — resulted in Williams first losing a point and then a game.
It would’ve been hard with all that taking place for Osaka to relish becoming a Grand Slam champion on court as it definitely was a pro-Williams crowd.
The truth is, however, that Osaka isn’t the big celebration kind of player. Even if there were no histrionics in this final, she wouldn’t have been the champion with arms pumping in the air or doing a victory twirl.
All Osaka would offer was a faint smile ahead of a hug at the net for the 36-year-old Williams.
In fact, she even brought her love of Williams into the classroom, saying, “When I was growing up, I did a whole report on her in third grade. I colored it and everything.
“I said, ‘I want to be like her.’ ”
More surprising, Osaka apologized to the fans for spoiling the moment for them – most had come to see Williams win a 24th Grand Slam trophy and tie the record held by Margaret Court – not to see a new Grand Slam champion crowned.
“I know that everyone was cheering for her and I’m sorry it had to end like this,” she said. “I just wanted to say thank you for watching the match.”
When asked in her post-championship news conference why she felt it necessary to apologize on court, she started to tear up.
“Your question is making me emotional,” she said. “OK, because I know that, like, she really wanted to have the 24th Grand Slam, right? Everyone knows this. It’s on the commercials, it’s everywhere. Like, when I step onto the court, I feel like a different person. 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.”
Osaka’s only other career title came at the Indian Wells tournament in March. She beat Williams in the Miami Open later that month, but that was just the fourth match in Williams’ return from maternity leave.
Osaka played as if experience was in her corner. Williams willingly acknowledged that her opponent outplayed her in every way in the final, which was an attitude more aligned to a 36-year-old playing in her 31st Grand Slam final.
“I feel like she was really, really consistent,” Williams said. “I think her game is always super consistent. I felt like she played really well. She was so focused.
“Honestly, there’s a lot I can learn from her from this match,” she added.
A good place for Williams to start that process might be in learning that instead of blowing a fuse it’s advisable to keep one’s composure in difficult situations.