FIRST OFF, let’s get one thing clear: Naomi Osaka deserved to win yesterday. She was the better player by far in the United States Open women’s singles final, and she had every right to hoist the hardware with pride in the aftermath. Unfortunately, her spectacular rise to the top in the sport’s last major tournament of the year was marred by umpire Carlos Ramos’ stringent application of rules. Had more measured responses come from his chair, she would have been accorded the congratulations she merited. Instead, her coronation was greeted by a still-hostile crowd put off by the turn of events.
To be sure, Osaka’s campaign over the last fortnight was made even more scintillating by the quality of the opposition. The year had hitherto been good for her, with a coaching change spurring her 49-spot rise to 19th in world rankings heading into the US Open. Still, her immediate past showing gave little indication she would do extremely well at Flushing Meadows; appearances in Washington, Montreal, and Cincinnati highlighted her inconsistency and seeming lack of preparedness.
Once Osaka got going, though, there was to be no stopping her ascent. She lost a combined seven games in her first three matches prior to being tested in the Round of 32, and it was smooth sailing from then on. She certainly saved her best for last, with her booming serves and punishing groundstrokes holding Madison Keys and fellow finalist Serena Williams at bay and preventing them from winning more than half the games she took. And in her outstanding play, she figured she earned the cheers of otherwise-jaded spectators at the Arthur Ashe Stadium.
Instead, Osaka got boos and brickbats, leading to the highly unusual sight of the runner-up consoling the champion. True, she wasn’t the subject of derision; the ignominy belonged to Ramos. Then again, his poor judgment cast a pall on the proceedings — such that it will be recalled because of his lows and not of her highs. Not even Williams’ gracious concession and rightful admonition figure to be enough for the moment to be remembered with fondness and not disgust.
Still and all, Osaka has proven her worth. Before her 2018 campaign began, she publicly declared her intent to defeat idols Serena and Venus Williams and Maria Sharapova on the court. Now, she can say she did, and with her head held high. Yesterday, she appeared every bit the equal of her much-more-accomplished rival. The sport’s grandest stage did not make her wilt. And if her talent and resolve under the watchful eye of Sascha Bajin is any indication, she will be blooming still for some time to come.
Anthony L. Cuaycong has been writing Courtside since BusinessWorld introduced a Sports section in 1994.