Serena Williams may have said her piece on the controversial U.S. Open women’s final last month, but the winner, Japan’s Naomi Osaka, has stayed pretty quiet on the matter since. At the China Open this week, she spoke about the moment and moving past it.
“The memory of the US Open is a little bit bittersweet,” she said. “Like right after, the day after, I really didn’t want to think about it because it wasn’t necessarily the happiest memory for me. I don’t know. I just sort of wanted to move on at that point.”
Ahead of the match, the 20-year-old had talked about her admiration for Williams and her excitement at getting to play one of her idols. Over the course of the competition, however, Williams was given what many are calling sexist code violations that threw her off her game and riled up the crowd.
Williams was handed penalties by umpire Carlos Ramos for what he perceived as coaching (coaches are not permitted to give advice during gameplay), for smashing her racket in frustration after making a mistake and then finally for “abuse” when she called him “a thief” for “stealing a point” from her. After the game, Williams was fined $17,000 for the violations.
“I mean, of course I’m happy that I won a Grand Slam,” Osaka said, “I don’t think there’s anything that can take away from that. But I don’t know. I feel like not that when I look back on it that it’s a bad memory, but I feel like it was so strange, I just didn’t want to think about it. I wanted to just push it to the side.”
She likened her win to eating a green tea ice cream.
“When you bite into it, it’s sweet but also very strong,” she said. “That’s how that memory feels to me.”
The trophy presentation after the match was a tearful affair with both Osaka and Williams crying and the crowd booing. After wiping her own tears, however, Williams turned to Osaka to comfort and encourage her. It was one positive moment in an otherwise upsetting game.
In her press conference afterwards, Williams pointed out the sexism that was likely a contributor to her penalties — umpires are often more lenient when male tennis players show comparable aggression on the court — but also acknowledged how disappointing the circumstances of Osaka’s win must be for her.
“This is her moment,” Williams said. “She played an amazing match. She deserved credit, she deserved to win. At the end of the day, that’s what it was.”