Serena Williams’s controversial loss to Naomi Osaka in the U.S. Open finals on Sept. 8 turned out to be the most-watched in ESPN’s coverage of the tournament, drawing 50 percent more fans than the men’s final the following day.
The match between Williams, a 23-time Grand Slam winner, and 20-year-old rising star Osaka averaged 3.1 million viewers, according to ESPN. It was the most popular women’s tennis contest in the four years since the Walt Disney Co.-owned network began airing the entire tournament.
The men’s final, in which Novak Djokovic beat Juan Martin del Potro, drew 2.07 million viewers.
The women’s match turned controversial when umpire Carlos Ramos penalized Williams three times, once for getting illegal coaching, later when Williams broke her racket and again when she called the ump a “thief.” After being penalized an entire game, Williams accused Ramos of sexism for what she said was selectively enforcing the rules.
The audience for the entire U.S. Open averaged 1.04 million viewers, up 9 percent from last year. Still it was below ESPN’s 1.27 million in 2015, the network’s first year of exclusive coverage.