Serena Williams, currently in the middle of another Wimbledon title hunt, has an essay out in Harper’s Bazaar today that lays out the emotional aftermath of her 2018 U.S. Open final. That match, which resulted in the first major title for then-20-year-old Naomi Osaka, was marred by a long umpire dispute late in the second set.
“This debacle ruined something that should have been amazing and historic,” Williams wrote. “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.”
Williams also shared the apology that she sent Osaka at the time, and excerpts from the younger player’s response:
Days passed, and I still couldn’t find peace. I started seeing a therapist. I was searching for answers, and although I felt like I was making progress, I still wasn’t ready to pick up a racket. Finally I realized that 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. I started to type, slowly at first, then faster as if the words were flowing out of me.
“Hey, Naomi! It’s Serena Williams. As I said on the court, I am so proud of you and I am truly sorry. I thought I was doing the right thing in sticking up for myself. 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. Once again, I am so proud of you. All my love and your fan, Serena.”
When Naomi’s response came through, tears rolled down my face. “People can misunderstand anger for strength because they can’t differentiate between the two,” she said graciously. “No one has stood up for themselves the way you have and you need to continue trailblazing.”
The idea that “the media” had “pit [them] against each other” feels like an incomplete account for what went wrong that day. When Osaka was crying at the trophy ceremony, it was probably not due to the headlines or sports radio chatter that would be produced in the days to come. It was probably because something confusing and upsetting had just happened on the court, and had the crowd audibly booing during what should have been a victorious moment.
Any criticism of Williams is a rhetorical minefield because it rewards some of the scummiest racists around, who are just constantly scrounging for ammunition. So, to keep it simple: Serena Williams’s life and career has required incredible defiance of racism and misogyny. Despite the framing of her essay, it’s still hard to read this particular incident in this particular match as an example of that same defiance—as opposed to, say, just a GOAT losing her cool, much the same way every other GOAT has at some point in a long GOAT career. The courtesy any viewer should extend Serena Williams is the freedom to lose her cool sometimes, and to recognize those moments for what they are, a year after the fact.