The killer instinct that carried Japan’s Naomi Osaka to a first Grand Slam title evaporated as she hugged her idol Serena Williams after beating her in a controversial US Open final.
Osaka said it wasn’t the ire of the Arthur Ashe Stadium crowd — angered at penalties meted out to Williams — but just the realization that she’d robbed the US great who inspired her career of a record-equalling 24th Grand Slam title.
“I know that she really wanted to have the 24th Grand Slam,” said Osaka, who choked up again herself trying to explain her feelings.
“When I step onto the court, I feel like a different person, right? I’m not a Serena fan. I’m just a tennis player playing another tennis player.
“But then when I hugged her at the net I felt like a little kid again.”
Osaka, 20, looked nothing like a kid as she took the court aiming to become Japan’s first Grand Slam winner.
Undaunted by the massive pro-Williams crowd — extra noisy with the Ashe stadium roof closed because of rain — she broke Williams twice for a quick 4-1 lead in the opening set, displaying the kind of powerful ground game and dominant serve that have made Williams herself a star.
She had locked up the first in style with a blistering service winner when Williams was incensed by a code violation warning for receiving coaching from her box in the second game of the second set.
Although Williams would take a 3-1 lead in the set, the accusation festered, and soon a violation for racquet abuse cost her a point while a third for verbal abuse cost her a game.
“I didn’t know what was going on, I was just trying to focus. Since it was my first Grand Slam final, I did not want to get overwhelmed,” Osaka said.
“Serena came to the bench and told me she had a point penalty and when she got the game penalty I didn’t know that either.
“I was just trying to focus on myself at that time,” Osaka said.
A somewhat muted reaction to her history-making victory had nothing to do with the late-match chaos, Osaka said.
Kei Nishikori is the only other Japanese player to reach a Grand Slam final, and he couldn’t take the last step, falling to Marin Cilic in the 2014 US Open men’s final.
“To have a huge reaction isn’t really me in the first place,” she said. “It just still didn’t really feel that real.”
Osaka, who earned $3.8 million (€3.29 million) for the victory, said her next goal was a simple one: to win her next tournament in Tokyo.
Asked if she was prepared for the reception she’ll receive as the country’s first Grand Slam winner, Osaka said: “Apparently not, because people keep asking me that.”