Almost a year after her controversial defeat at the U.S. Open in September 2018, Serena Williams is opening up about her match against Naomi Osaka.
The championship match between Williams, 37, and Osaka, 21, was marred by a verbal altercation between Williams and chair umpire Carlos Ramos, who gave the 23-time Grand Slam champion three separate on-court violations. Williams was penalized for illegal coaching, breaking her racket and verbal abuse, and later suggested that the umpire’s actions were motivated by sexism.
The tennis superstar shared her side of the story in a first-person essay in Harper’s Bazaar for their unretouched August cover, revealing that she sent Osaka an apology letter after the match.
“In the end, my opponent simply played better than me that day and ended up winning her first Grand Slam title,” Williams said. “I thought back to my first Grand Slam. It’s the one you remember best; it’s supposed to be the most special. This debacle ruined something that should have been amazing and historic.”
“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,” she continued. “My heart broke.”
After writing that she wasn’t able to “find peace” in the days after the match, Williams said that she started to see a therapist and realized “there was only one way for me to move forward.”
“It was time for me to apologize to the person who deserved it the most,” she said about writing the letter to Osaka. “I started to type, slowly at first, then faster as if the words were flowing out of me.”
In her letter, Williams told Osaka, “I am so proud of you and I am truly sorry.”
“I thought I was doing the right thing in sticking up for myself,” the athlete said she wrote in the letter. “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.”
Williams said that “tears rolled down” her face when she received Osaka’s response to her letter.
” ‘People can misunderstand anger for strength because they can’t differentiate between the two … No one has stood up for themselves the way you have and you need to continue trailblazing,’ ” Williams said Osaka wrote.
The mother of one then wrote that the U.S. Open match “exemplified how thousands of women in every area of the workforce are treated every day.”
“We are not allowed to have emotions, we are not allowed to be passionate,” Williams wrote in the magazine. “We are told to sit down and be quiet, which frankly is just not something I’m okay with. It’s shameful that our society penalizes women just for being themselves.”
Williams shared a similar sentiment in an April interview with Business of Fashion.
“For me, being a perfectionist and being a professional, it would be impossible not to wish I didn’t handle a lot of situations differently, even that particular situation,” she shared at the time. “So, absolutely. However, I have to tell myself, because of my daughter, that I should be able to have any emotion that any man can have.”
“It’s about teaching our new generation that everyone should be treated the same,” she said.
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