Naomi Osaka has spoken about the mixed emotions she felt after beating her childhood idol Serena Williams in a US Open women’s final marred by controversy.
Two days after winning her first Grand Slam title, the 20-year-old said she was “really emotional” up on the podium standing beside Williams, admitting she felt like she had to apologise to superfans of the former world No 1.
“I felt a little bit sad because I wasn’t really sure if (the crowd) were booing at me or if it wasn’t the outcome that they wanted,” Osaka said during an interview on NBC’s Today show.
“I also could sympathise because I’ve been a fan of Serena my whole life. And I knew how badly the crowd wanted her to win, I don’t know, I was just really emotional up there.”
Osaka’s history-making win in straight sets at Arthur Ashe Stadium in Queens on Saturday was overshadowed by the on-court drama that unfolded between the 23-time champion and chair umpire Carlos Ramos.
The crowd could be heard booing during the emotional trophy ceremony after Williams’ shock loss that saw her slapped with three violations during the second set; ultimately being penalised an entire game when she called the umpire a “thief” for taking a point from her and demanded an apology.
Osaka said she wasn’t aware of exactly what was happening while her opponent argued with the umpire at the net.
“I just felt like everyone was sort of unhappy out there and I knew it wasn’t the ending that everyone wanted it to be. In my dreams I won in a very tough, competitive match, so I just felt very emotional and that I had to apologise,” Osaka said of her teary acceptance speech.
After her dramatic defeat of Williams, the rising tennis star told the audibly disappointed crowd: “I’m sorry it had to end like this. I want to say thank you for watching the match.”
Tilting her visor down, and with tears in her eyes, Osaka was comforted by the 36-year-old tennis great.
“I felt really happy because I sort of felt that she knew I was crying … It just made me happy overall.”
She said she was overwhelmed when her long-time sporting idol congratulated her during the post-match interview.
“She played an amazing match,” Williams conceded. “She deserved credit. She deserved to win.”
Osaka, who has lived in America since the age of 3 but represents the country of her birth, Japan, said she grew up following Williams’ career and even wrote a school paper about her in the third grade.
“I coloured it and everything,” she said. “I said, ‘I want to be like her.’”
Williams was fined $24,000 for her three violations during the tumultuous US Open women’s final. Worldwide debate continues to rage over whether the code violations that sparked her outburst were sexist.