Naomi Osaka emphatically ended Serena Williams’ latest bid for a record-breaking 24th Grand Slam crown with a straight tear in the Australian Open semi-final on Thursday.
The Japanese third seed swept past the American veteran 6-3, 6-4 at Rod Laver Arena in front of thousands of fans allowed back after Melbourne lifted a quick five-day lockout.
She will face either American Jennifer Brady or Czech Karolina Muchova on Saturday for a fourth Slam title after her success at Flushing Meadows 2018 and last year, and Melbourne 2019.
The victory left Williams, who won her last major in Melbourne 2017, stranded on 23 Grand Slam titles as she strives to match Margaret Court’s record.
Since winning during pregnancy in Australia four years ago, Williams has lost four Slam finals, including one to Osaka in a controversial and heated 2018 US Open decision that left both women in tears.
“I hit a lot of unforced errors during the first few games, I was just really nervous and scared,” said Osaka, who struck out five games in a row in the opening set after going 2-0.
“But then I eased into it and the biggest thing for me was to have fun.”
“For me, it’s always an honor to play her and I did not want to go out (in the tournament) really bad, so I just tried my best,” she added.
Great match experience
While Osaka had a 2-1 head-to-head advantage that went into the blockbuster collision, the 39-year-old Williams had a huge advantage on the big-match experience.
Before the showdown, she had won all eight of her previous semi-finals at Melbourne Park and stretched back 18 years to beat Kim Clijsters on her way to her first Australian title.
Her first Grand Slam semi ever, against Lindsay Davenport at the 1999 US Open, was played when Osaka was just one.
But the 23-year-old boasts a 100 percent record in the Slams when she got past the fourth round, and she kept it intact on Thursday.
Williams worked hard on his fitness during the off-season and asserted himself quickly, breaking Osaka immediately with the Japanese sensation who had problems with the sun and the ball.
She was consolidated by holding the serve, with Osaka guilty of five involuntary errors in the two opening games.
Osaka said before the match that she still felt scared to see Williams on the other side of the net, but her early nerves soon calmed down.
She saved a break point in the next game and went off with an ace and then broke back to equalize the score to 2-2 when Williams sent a pre-long.
Now well and truly in her footsteps, with her hand doing most of the damage, Osaka won five games in a row, and the set, to leave Williams stunned.
She broke again at Williams’ opening serving of the second set, with the American shouting, “Make a shot, make a shot!”
With the crowd roaring at her, Williams stayed in touch and Osaka’s eighth double fault gave her the Americans a break.
But it was a short delay with Osaka breaking again and calmly serving to victory.