Nine years after Michael Jackson’s death, his testimony overwhelms the memory of his creative and performative genius. More than his Moonwalk or Thriller video I hear him describing the refiner’s fire that forged perfection on stage, video and in recordings. No birthdays off, no Christmases, no New Years, no time off at all from drilling – under a father/sergeant major who recognized his child’s hundred-year latent talent, that could be realized by disregarding the price to be paid.
Naomi Osaka and Serena Williams are such twice-in-a lifetime talents forged in a similar Jacksonian manner. They contested the U.S. Open Women’s Tennis final on Saturday at Arthur Ashe Stadium in the Billie Jean King National Tennis Center located in the New York, County of Queens, the nation’s most racially and ethnically diverse. Please consider those names and facts as you evaluate Ms. Williams’ claim that since 2004 she repeatedly has been victimized at this tournament because of her gender and race by lines people, umpires and referees, primarily women and women of color.
Press reports and analyses of the match are everywhere. To H.L. readers I commend the New York Times article, written by Ben Rothenberg and Christopher Clarey, for managing a front-page story without the winner’s name in the headline and failing to mention, let alone detail, Williams’ similar penalized outbursts when being beaten by Kim Clijsters and Sam Stosur in Opens past. (See H.L. 53 Serena versus Maria: The Aborted Battle of the Titans 6/15/2018). Nor did the Times perform any deconstruction of Williams’ assertion that she was a victim of sexism, an advocate for women’s rights, and somehow was defending her infant daughter.
As for the athletic contest, Osaka played brilliantly from beginning to end, with the exception of the fourth game of the second set. One game in a match where 17 were played and one forfeited by Williams for verbally assaulting the umpire. Osaka decisively outplayed Williams. She out-served her as well – something not recalled from hundreds of watched Williams’ matches, including those attended in Melbourne, London, Paris and Flushing Meadows. That Osaka dominated Williams until she led 6-2, 4-3, after having for the second time broken Williams’ serve twice consecutively was astounding, but not unprecedented. Williams, though the greatest women’s tennis player of the last 20 years, has been beaten this soundly before in big matches. Osaka’s poise and skill in serving out the match when up at 5-4 was a feat of athleticism whose equal H.L. can’t recall. After the Serena circus transpired, Osaka toed the line with virtually the entire largest tennis stadium in the world praying and screaming for her to double fault, collapse and perhaps break a limb. Yet she served out the championship with three powerful and brilliantly placed serves.
Time will tell whether Osaka will approach, equal or exceed Williams’ tennis achievements. One such victory doesn’t come close to doing or even predicting that. But Osaka was reared, indeed groomed, to be as good as Serena by a father who modeled Naomi’s and her sister’s tennis training after that administered to Serena and Venus by Richard Williams.
Throughout the tournament the collateral damage side of this formula was also on display. Though both Williams and Osaka are very intelligent women (tennis at this level can’t be played without multiple high intelligences) they each displayed the gaps in their educations and socializations. Williams’ are manifested affirmatively as in her trademark ass whup meltdown during the final. Genuine and genuinely disturbing was Serena’s inability to distinguish a warning about “coaching” from a charge of “cheating” that came only from her lips. Similarly paranoid, inapposite and simply ignorant was her repeated assertion that the umpire was guilty of a “sexist remark” because he assessed her a game penalty for calling him “a liar and a thief.”
In contrast, Osaka’s gaps display in what shrinks refer to as a colorless affect. Casual fans who only watched or attended the final probably assumed that her blank stare during the trophy ceremony was the product of Williams’ conduct, the ensuing deplorable crowd reaction and the fact that her decisive defeat of the greatest women’s player was drowned out in the spectacle.
Nope, when just about all Osaka could say upon receiving the trophy and $3.8 million was “thank you for watching the match” it was the exact same blank stare mantra she had uttered after each preceding victory. After each she answered the same simple questions in the same monotone with responses that were slightly off, slightly inaccurate, and grammatically challenged for a 20-year-old as natively intelligent as she obviously is. Each time, Osaka’s answers and reflections also sounded as mechanical as if delivered by the T-1000 unit in Terminator 2. Perhaps an equally apposite analogy for this disastrous match is that a T-1000 triumphed over a T-800. Whether the loser was the bad Arnold of Terminator or the humanized Schwarzenegger of Terminator 2, depends upon the worldview of the beholder.