While the 2018 U.S. Open was Naomi Osaka’s first Grand Slam win, it is perhaps most notably remembered for Serena Williams’ argument with the chair umpire and calling out his sexist behavior. He penalized Williams for being coached — she insists he wasn’t — and for calling him a “thief.” Most severely, she was penalized a game in the final against Osaka.
At the time, the tennis world congratulated Osaka but generally agreed that Serena was being unfairly punished when men say much worse to tournament officials and often aren’t penalized.
In an essay published Tuesday in Harper’s BAZAAR, Serena opened up about the U.S. Open final in a first-person essay detailing her internal struggles to move on after the match. She felt and still feels she was standing up for herself and insisting to be treated like any other player.
But her lingering frustration led to sleepless nights and countless questions about the match — including how this affected Osaka’s first Grand Slam title.
Not only was a game taken from me but a defining, triumphant moment was taken from another player, something she should remember as one of the happiest memories in her long and successful career. My heart broke. I started to think again, “What could I have done better? Was I wrong to stand up? Why is it that when women get passionate, they’re labeled emotional, crazy, and irrational, but when men do they’re seen as passionate and strong?”
As she struggled to move on in the following days, she said she “wasn’t ready to pick up a racket” and began seeing a therapist.
Eventually, Williams said she realized she needed to apologize to Osaka, “the person who deserved it the most.” And in the essay, she shared what she wrote to her past opponent, as well as what she wrote back.
“Hey, Naomi! It’s Serena Williams. As I said on the court,I am so proud of you and I am truly sorry. I thought I was doing the right thing in sticking up for myself. But I had no idea the media would pit us against each other. I would love the chance to live that moment over again. I am, was, and will always be happy for you and supportive of you. I would never, ever want the light to shine away from another female, specifically another black female athlete. I can’t wait for your future, and believe me I will always be watching as a big fan! I wish you only success today and in the future. Once again, I am so proud of you. All my love and your fan, Serena.”
When Naomi’s response came through, tears rolled down my face. “People can misunderstand anger for strength because they can’t differentiate between the two,” she said graciously. “No one has stood up for themselves the way you have and you need to continue trailblazing.”
It was in this moment that I realized the real reason the US Open was so hard for me to get over: It wasn’t because of the backlash I faced but rather because of what had happened to the young woman who deserved so much more in her special moment. I had felt that it was my fault and that I should have kept my mouth closed. But now, seeing her text putting everything in perspective, I realized she was right.
Read Serena’s full essay in Harper’s BAZAAR, which includes multiple untouched photos of the tennis superstar.