By Yesh Ginsburg
One of the most-anticipated women’s semifinal matches we’ve seen in years quickly became a bit of a dud as Naomi Osaka beat Serena Williams without too much trouble in two sets. The quality of the match unfortunately did not live up to its billing, though I doubt the rising Japanese star will complain. Osaka put in a solid performance, which was more than enough to beat the American, who was far from her best on the day.
Naomi Osaka vs Serena Williams
Osaka started the match very poorly, as she couldn’t find the court with her first serve or her groundstrokes. She was quickly broken in the opening game and couldn’t find a return in Williams’ first service game. After that, though, it was all Naomi Osaka.
Osaka still struggled heavily with her first serve, but she gutted out her next service game, saving break points in the process. From there, Osaka found her rhythm, while Williams seemed to lose hers. The 2019 Australian Open champion played solid points, as her defense and baseline groundstrokes were just too much for the seven-time champion to handle. Williams’ movement, meanwhile–which was so incredible in her last two matches–wasn’t pristine at times. That, combined with an uncharacteristic number of baseline errors, pushed the set in Osaka’s failure. Williams won one more service game in the process, but strong serving and another break gave Osaka the set 6-3.
The second set started out the same way as the first ended. Williams struggled a bit from the baseline, and Osaka broke to open the set. It’s never over when Serena Williams is playing, but this match definitely looked over.
I don’t want to undersell this match. Yes, it underwhelmed compared to our high expectations, but these are two of the best women in the world. Indeed, they might be the best two women to ever play the game (time will tell for Osaka on that). The match brought its share of incredible points, as any match between these two will.
The match wasn’t over, though, and serving out high-pressure matches is never easy. As Williams improved her serve early in the second set, Osaka appeared to do the same. The first serve, which was nonexistent in the first set, got better as the pressure ramped up. While up 3*-2, Osaka lost the first point of the game. She responded with four huge first serves, none of which Williams successfully got in play. Osaka couldn’t sustain it, though, as she hit three double faults in her next service game to give away the break. Nerves seemed to finally stress her.
Naomi Osaka is a three-time Major champion for a reason, though, and she shook off those nerves very quickly. Osaka broke back to love, in a game that included three incredible backhand winners (each better than the next) and a double fault from Williams. This time, the Japanese showed no nerves at all serving out the match. Four huge serves got her quickly to a 6-3 6-4 victory. All told, Osaka won the final eight points of the match, which wasn’t as close as the scoreline would indicate. Osaka looks absolutely dominant, which should serve her well as she approaches her fourth Grand Slam final.
Osaka moves on to her fourth Grand Slam final since the 2018 US Open, where she beat Williams to win her first Major. She will face either Jennifer Brady or Karolina Muchova, as we are guaranteed a first-time Major finalist from the other half of the draw. Osaka will like to improve her first serve coming into that match–she’s struggled with it since the quarterfinals–but the Japanese should absolutely enter the final as a heavy favorite.
For Williams, this is yet another disappointment in her chase for a 24th career Grand Slam title. She has reached four Major finals since coming back from pregnancy, but lost in all four of those. Now a semifinal loss is added to the mix.
Williams is still one of the best players in the world. If she can keep her movement up to the level she showed in several matches this tournament, she certainly has another Slam victory (or more) in her. Losing to Naomi Osaka from the baseline is nothing to be ashamed of. Williams will still be one of the favorites in every Slam in the foreseeable future. Is there a chance she never gets that coveted #24? Yes. And the longer she goes without winning one, the higher that chance gets. But would we be foolish to count her out at this point? Absolutely. I don’t know if Williams will ever reach that number, but it’s definitely still within reach.