NEW YORK: Naomi Osaka became Japan’s first ever Grand Slam champion after she thumped a raging Serena Williams 6-2 6-4 in a controversial US Open final early this morning, with the American suffering a meltdown after being handed a game penalty.
With Osaka in control of the match, chair umpire Carlos Ramos sent Serena into a rage when he handed the 23-time Grand Slam champion a game penalty for a string of bad behaviour, including a coaching violation and verbal and racket abuse.
Serena then launched a verbal attack on Ramos, demanding everything from an apology to accusing him of being a thief.
The game penalty put Osaka 5-3 up in second set and the 20-year-old Japanese kept her cool to pull off a historic win.
Meanwhile, Osaka is hogging the headlines for all the right reasons in her native land, with one major newspaper hailing her as “a new heroine Japan can be proud of”.
She’s one of several young mixed-race athletes who are challenging Japan’s traditional self-image as a racially homogenous country, including sprinter Asuka Cambridge and baseball player Yu Darvish.
Osaka was born in Japan but left when she was three years old and raised in the US. She holds both Japanese and American citizenship, and is far more adept in English than she is in her mother tongue.
Yet many Japanese appear to have embraced the endearing Osaka, charmed by her off-court genuineness as much as her on-court ferocity.
“Her Japanese isn’t that good, right? But the way she tries to speak in Japanese is so cute,” said Yukie Ohashi, a 41-year-old Tokyo resident. “My impression of her is that she sticks to her beliefs and is powerful.”
The Asahi newspaper described how Osaka’s unpretentious, sometimes humorous responses in post-match interviews and news conferences have won over spectators and journalists alike.
Sometimes critical of her own post-victory speeches, Osaka admitted to being teased on social media for crying after her quarter-final win, prompting her to keep a straight face after her semi-final triumph over home hope Madison Keys.
Osaka also has a strong attachment to Japanese culture, describing her visits to the country as like a “super-awesome extended vacation that I don’t want to leave”, according to media reports.
“The combination of her strength and childlike innocence is her charm,” said the conservative-leaning Yomiuri, another major daily.
Tennis is not as big in Japan as baseball, soccer or sumo, but Osaka’s 6-2 6-4 semi-final win over Keys made the front pages of major local newspapers on Thursday.