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How it happened: Osaka closes out Serena in Australian Open semifinals
In a rematch of their 2018 US Open final, Naomi Osaka rallied from a slow start to dispatch 23-time Grand Slam champion Serena Williams and book her second career Australian Open final.
February 17, 2021
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In Press: Osaka is here to win
Naomi Osaka has amassed an impressive 11-0 record in the quarterfinals or better at major tournaments, and her secret to that is simple: no one remembers second place.
“I have this mentality that people don’t remember the runners up,” she said to reporters after the match. “You might, but the winner’s name is the one that’s engraved.
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— #AusOpen (@AustralianOpen) February 18, 2021
“I think I fight the hardest in the finals. I think that’s where you sort of set yourself apart. It’s the other person won as many matches as you did. It’s something that I think…I don’t know, it’s like the biggest fight.”
Osaka had to fight early on against Williams on nerves initially hand-cuffed the typically free-flowing youngster.
“It’s very intimidating to serve for the first game and see her on the other side of the net.
“I felt like I just started making way too much unforced errors because I was worried about what she would do if I were to hit a soft ball…When it was like 2-0, I was just telling myself to control what I can control and try to play within myself instead of thinking about what she would do or anything like that.”
In Press: Serena succumbs to emotions
Just over three minutes into her post-match press conference, Serena left the room in tears with the words, “I don’t know, I’m done.” The 39-year-old had fielded questions in a relatively normal manner until that moment.
— Tennis Channel (@TennisChannel) February 18, 2021
Understandably, the American is disappointed to not be collecting her record-tying 24th Grand Slam title this weekend. She was asked about her walk out of the stadium, during which she paused with her hand over her heart.
“I don’t know. The Aussie crowd is so amazing, so it was nice to see,” she said.
A reporter pushed a little bit with “Some people wondered if you were almost saying farewell.”
“I don’t know,” Serena said. “If I ever say farewell, I wouldn’t tell anyone. So…
And then the abrupt exit following this rather standard question: “The unforced errors through the match, considering how well up you played to get to this stage, what do you feel caused that? Was it just one of those bad days at the office?”
Serena hit 24 unforced errors to 12 winners.
11:31 p.m. ET: Osaka wins, 6-3, 6-4
Serena shouts from frustration when she makes a forehand to open the second set; the frustration only builds as errors mixed with consistent play from Osaka allow for an immediate break to continue her momentum.
The Osaka serve, shaky at the start, looks all but unbreakable until the she throws in three double faults and, by extension, a lifeline to the 23-time Grand Slam champion.
Osaka nonetheless responds with aplomb, blasting three clean backhand winners to reclaim the break, and served out the following game to love to secure the victory in one hour and 15 minutes.
It wasn’t an easy serving day for either woman: 45% and 46% first serve percentages, respectively, but Osaka made the better of her delivery when she got the ball in, winning 85% of her first serve points against 65% from Williams. Near-perfect off the ground, the 2019 Australian Open champion ended the match with 20 winners to 21 unforced errors, while Williams ended with a -12 differential and 24 unforced errors.
Osaka will play either Jennifer Brady or Karolina Muchova on Saturday’s championship match. Osaka and Brady played to three dramatic sets at the US Open last summer.
10:56 p.m. ET: Osaka takes the first set, 6-3
Osaka started off looking really wobbly on her serve, both in the warm-up and once play began. The unease translated to a slow start with Serena quickly leading 2-0 with a chance to forge ahead 3-0.
Instead, Osaka settled in, saved the break point, and won her first game with an emphatic ace. She’d then break Serena, and fight off another break point to inch ahead 3-2. In what felt like the blink of an eye, Osaka had won five games in a row. Her serve troubles were long forgotten as she even hit a sizzling 122 mph ace.
Serena wasn’t going to let it be six games, and held serve firmly to close the gap. Osaka now felt some pressure to serve out the first set, but she didn’t blink, sealing it on her first chance for 6-3. She hit just 9 winners but it was more than double the four that Serena managed.
10:17 p.m. ET: Play gets underway
The first game is underway between Serena Williams and Naomi Osaka inside Rod Laver Arena with fans back in the stands. It’s been five long days since spectators were allowed to attend matches, and they’re being rewarded for their patience with a highly-anticipated semifinal.
Though they faced off in Adelaide just last month, the last time Serena and Osaka played each other in an official match was the 2019 Rogers Cup with Serena winning in straight sets. Of course, their last Grand Slam meeting was Osaka’s controversial 2018 US Open final win.