We take a detailed look at Serena Williams’ mental breakdown that ultimately cost her the US Open title on Saturday.
The former world number one had her second chance of the year to equal Margaret Court’s long-standing grand slam record of 24 grand slams, but let her emotions get the better of her against a brilliant and calm Naomi Osaka in New York.
There were a series of verbal altercations with chair umpire Carlos Ramos, which eventually lead to her being handed a game penalty, a rarity at grand slam level. But as you’ll see, Williams was the architect of her own demise…
After a rather disastrous opening set, where four double faults and 13 unforced errors from Williams helped Osaka to a 6-2 set win, Ramos noticed hand gestures coming from Williams’ box early in the second set.
Her long time coach, Patrick Mouratoglou, was spotted pushing both hands forward while looking at Williams, a motion commentators interpreted as telling Williams to approach the net more. There is no coaching allowed during a match, and Ramos promptly gave the American a warning, something not uncommon in tennis.
An irate Williams, likely feeling the pressure given the match situation, approached Romas and accused him of insulting her character. However, in essence, the warning for her coach, not Williams the tennis player.
Later, Mouratoglou admitted to the violation, but added that coaches do it all the time.
Second warning and point penalty
A heated Williams lost a point on her serve just a few minutes later, resulting in her smashing her racquet on court. For this, Ramos announced another violation, but because it was Williams’ second, he awarded a point to her opponent as per the rules.
On-court outbursts are another fairly frequent violation in tennis and it’s unfortunate that this one was compounded by the first, which was out of Williams’ hands to begin with. However, as a professional, she knew the consequences of a second violation.
After Ramos’ interjection, an angry Williams demanded an apology, even remonstarting “I have never cheated in my life, I have a daughter and I stand what’s right for her…”, still referring to the first violation.
Ramos didn’t argue and the score was now 1-1 in the second set, with Osaka starting the next game 15-0 up.
Third violation and game penalty
The tension seemed to clear as the duo swapped breaks and service games, leaving Osaka 4-3 up at the changeover.
But a seething Williams couldn’t let it slide. In another rant at Ramos, complete with a wagging finger, she accused the Portuguese of being a ‘thief’ and said “You will never, ever, ever be on another court of mine as long as you live.”
This left Ramos with no choice but to hand out a game penalty, meaning Williams was on serve but Osaka was just one game away from history.
This cued a frenzy from Williams, who got the match referee involved as ugly scenes unfolded at Arthur Ashe Stadium. “Because I’m a woman, you’re going to take this away from me?” she yelled at officials.
However, no-one bent to Williams’ will and the match eventually started again. Osaka – who had kept her cool throughout the chaos – thankfully managed to put an end to proceedings by holding serve and becoming Japan’s first ever grand slam winner.