On 9 September 2018, history was written in New York's Flushing Meadows as 20-year-old Naomi Osaka beat 23-times Grand Slam-winning tennis-legend Serena Williams to become the first Japanese origin player to win the prestigious US Open.
However, the spectacular victory of a woman of Haitian-Japanese origin, who has slowly been rising in international tennis for the past two years, was pathetically overshadowed by a series of events that preceded and succeeded the victory.
36-year-old Serena Williams, who has been playing international tennis for over 20 years and who recently made a much-celebrated comeback after the birth of her daughter, lost her cool during the match after she was penalised by chair umpire Carlos Ramos, first for being coached from the stands, second for smashing her racquet.
The two penalties were followed by Williams throwing a fit on pitch and calling the umpire a 'thief' and a liar'.
The 'meltdown', as it was reported in the media, cost Williams the game as the Rammos proceeded to dock her for the attacks. In a later press conferences, Williams claimed that no male tennis player had ever been docked for name calling and umpire and that this was purely a case of sexism and even racism.
Since the grand upset, media channels, news websites and social media have been buzzing with Williams' outburst, with camps divided as to the veracity and legitimacy of her claims of sexism. Some said that Williams, who has seen first-hand proof of sexism and racial prejudice in tennis, traditionally a pre-dominantly white and upper-class sport, should be given the benefit of the doubt. Others disagreed and blamed Williams' entitled behavior that cost the audience a good match.
What nobody seems to be talking about, however, is the spectacular victory of 20-year-old Osaka, who became an overnight darling in Japan after her historic win. This was Osaka's first Grand Slam attempt and she won it against the 23-times champion with grace and poise.
While the points Williams made against the umpire may or may not be valid, the fact that Osaka won the Grand Slam has no two ways about it. She won 6-2 6-4 against Williams, whose successful career spans Osaka's age. In the seven matches played before the title, Osaka had only dropped one set. According to analysts, the young athlete displayed all the signs of securing a victory at the final even if it had not been ascertained by William's code violations. She would have lost nothing, had she lost to the legendary athlete, Williams. But the fact is, she didn't.
At the end of the match, a teary-eyed Osaka, who firmly stood her ground throughout the match's drama which seemed swiftly to dissociate itself form her performance, actually apologized for winning the match.
Amid boos and hisses from Williams's fans, who were visibly distressed at their idol's loss, Osaka said, "I'm sorry it had to end this way." While Serena gave a perfunctory order to the crowd to maintain order and respect Osaka during her victory ceremony, her decidedly angry demeanour and the impassioned press conferences she held after the match to defend her actions, ensured fan frenzy over her loss to continue - while quashing Osaka's victory.
Many commentators and social media users have criticized Williams for alleged entitlement in the face of a challenge. While sexism and racism are proven problems in the world of US athletics, the fact that an experienced player like Williams would go on arguing with an umpire during a Grand Slam final against a first-timer, and then throw a tantrum at the end for disagreeing with the umpire's decisions - essentially diverting all media traffic to herself - was possibly an ill-thought move in poor taste.
Stalwarts like Williams should help younger athletes to grow and become more confident in the game. If there were allegations, they had to be dealt with off-court. But the tenacity with which Williams overshadowed Osaka's victory reeks of privileged entitlement and petulance.
While it is true that male players may not always face as harsh punishments during a game for name calling or being coached form the side, the fact remains that none of the violations were actually illegitimate. It IS not permitted to coach players during game, it IS illegal to display aggression and disrespect the sport - as displayed by the racquet smashing, and it IS illegal to abuse the umpire beyond reasonable limits. Male players too have been penalised for the same, though the instances are rare. This is also not the first time that umpire Carlos Ramos has got into a quarrel with a player for stringent adherence to the rule-book, Rafael Nadal being the previous 'victim'.
It is commendable that the world, including the sporting community in the US, has more-or-less supported Williams' claims and is seriously talking about the issues she mentions. Williams's fight is an age-old one - equality within US athletics. And it deserves all the attention it is getting. But a conversation about feminism and equality that grows at the cost of de-legitimizing another woman's achievements will always remain a one-sided, partial and essentially problematic one.
As the bigger role model, Williams, who has claimed to be fighting for the quality of women in sports should realise that patriarchy too is a form of power play, much like her entitlement in stealing Osaka's thunder. A sports journalist recently said about last night that tennis lost. He was wrong, Serena Williams lost. After playing a tough match that could have ended differently, but didn't. Osaka won nevertheless. Let no one tell the Haitian-Japanese star or her fans otherwise.