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Osaka’s win at U.S. Open overshadowed by Williams’ penalties

Tennis player Naomi Osaka beat her idol Serena Williams at the U.S. Open on Saturday, becoming the first person representing Japan to win a Grand Slam single. But the milestone was marked by claims that Williams’ penalties for her anger toward the umpire were unfair. For an analysis, sports reporter Lindsay Gibbs of ThinkProgress and Sandra Harwitt, who covered the match for USA Today, join Hari Sreenivasan.

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  • HARI SREENIVASAN:

    Naomi Osaka became the first Japanese Grand Slam champion defeating Serena Williams in the women's singles final of the U.S. Open yesterday. The 20-year-old dominated for most of the match but a heated exchange between Williams and the chair umpire created controversy and questions over whether Williams was being held to a different standard than other professional players.

    Joining me now via Skype from WashingtonD.C. is Lindsay Gibbs, a reporter at ThinkProgress and cohost of the 'Burn it all Down' podcast. And sportswriter Sandra Harwitt who covered this for USA Today yesterday.

    Let me start with a I think a point of agreement that both of you might find, which is — it was a fantastic performance by Naomi Osaka yesterday. I mean it was it was a great game.

  • LINDSAY GIBBS:

    Yeah she outserved Serene Williams, she was better on break points. She also saved all but one break point that she faced. And to see a 20-year-old on that stage playing against her idol in their first grand slam final to perform so well was, I don't know, personally I'm very hopeful for the future of this wonderful sport.

  • SANDRA HERWITT:

    Absolutely. And she was the key player of the whole tournament. No doubt. She's playing her idol and I think what transpired was that Serena, I think, thought that Naomi would come onto the court and be nervous and whatever. And Naomi is a very steady, even personality. She came out there, she played a game and she outplayed Serena. I felt badly for Naomi because everything that happened, she really didn't get her moment to celebrate. Although she would not be the type of person who was going to be like doing twirls or raising her arms. She's just really a quiet girl. Very nice girl.

  • HARI SREENIVASAN:

    So let's unpack a little bit of what happened as a cause of that frustration. One of the contentions that Serena Williams makes right on the court is, you treating me differently. Men do this all the time and they get away with it. But you're penalizing me for this because I'm a woman. Lindsay?

  • LINDSAY GIBBS:

    Yeah, I mean look, you can find situations where men did say a lot worse to umpires like Carlos Ramos and didn't receive the extensive penalties that she received. But I think what really this speaks to to me is how hurt she was by the implications that she was cheating. And that's really where this started to snowball. You know she continued to fight back against that. And I think tennis gets itself into a lot of trouble by having rules that aren't evenly enforced. And you know she wasn't able to kind of let go of her frustration over that call. Ramos could have Dr. Game, did he have to? I don't think so.

  • HARI SREENIVASAN:

    Sandra, you know him, you know you disagree?

  • SANDRA HERWITT:

    I absolutely disagree. I know of Ramos and I believe Carlos Remus to be one of the best umpires in the business. I don't think it was sexist at all. I don't believe him to be a sexist. I know that he called Novak Djokovic out for coaching and for a record violation at Wimbledon this year. A coaching rule is actually the player takes the fine. But the rule is actually against the coach. He admitted he did that. It doesn't matter whether she saw it or not. And to me it also doesn't really matter if it happens all the time. As somebody who was 23 grand slam titles and 36 years of experience, almost 37, she should've let it go. Carlos is one of the few umpires that really has the guts to go out there and abide by the rules.

  • HARI SREENIVASAN:

    Sandra, let me ask you about just how when a woman has this kind of self-defense and expresses herself she is hysterical, she is emotional. Is there a double standard that we hold them to at least in how we perceive when a woman pushes back versus what a man does?

  • SANDRA HERWITT:

    Oh that I think is absolutely true. I mean I think that's the way unfortunately the world still works. You know, men are perceived as strong and women as you say, are hysterical and that's why can't a woman be competent and smart and you know just as talented as male and I can't disagree with anything you just said because I think it's right.

  • HARI SREENIVASAN:

    Lindsay, this is also happening in the context of not just the specific game and also this particular tournament. But Serena Williams has felt for quite some time that she has been unfairly targeted.

  • LINDSAY GIBBS:

    Everything Serena does comes with being a very visible black woman in America and a country that often doesn't know how to handle that. There have been many instances whether it be beads falling out of their hair or you know racism from their opponents. You know, there's been so many examples over the years of the Williams sisters both being treated like outsiders in a sport they came to kind of define and they're still people that are trying to keep tennis to be a more traditionally white sport, I would say.

  • HARI SREENIVASAN:

    Lindsay Gibbs the reporter at ThinkProgress and cohost of the 'Burn it all Down' podcast and sportswriter Sandra Harwitt thanks for joining us.

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