Naomi Osaka scored an impressive victory over Serena Williams to reach the final of the Australian Open and end the Americans’ last quest to win the 24th Grand Slam title.
Three-time Grand Slam champion Osaka withstood early pressure from Williams to win 6-3 6-4.
Osaka has scored 20 consecutive matches unbeaten and never lost in the four tournaments.
She faces Japanese Jennifer Brady in Saturday’s final after the American’s victory over Carolina Moshova.
She overtook Brady of the Czech Republic 6-4 3-6 6-4 to book her place in her first Grand Slam final.
It will be a rematch of the 2020 US Open semi-final, in which Osaka qualified in three sets.
“I was really tense and scared at first,” Osaka said of her match with Williams, “and then made my way fairly easily.”
“It’s always an honor to play it, and I didn’t quite want to get out. I just wanted to do my best.”
This is the first time Williams has lost the Australian Open semi-finals in eight matches in their last four matches.
Williams will be left to regret the opportunities she left wasted and wondering once again if she will equal Margaret Court’s record.
Osaka holds itself
Osaka and Williams last met in a Grand Slam final in the 2018 US Open Final – an unforgettable match. Williams broke out in judgment And Osaka’s tears at the presentation ceremony.
Since then, Osaka has won two more major titles and climbed to third in the world rankings, as well as gaining more confidence and calm on the field.
It was Williams, with all her experience, who got off to the best, breaking Osaka’s nerve in the first game of the match before keeping her serve to go 2-0 up.
Although Osaka’s serving wasn’t at her best, her strength and increasingly relaxed move allowed her to strike back, taking advantage of a dip in Williams’ game to win six of their last seven matches and get the first set.
Williams’ special dispatch, such a big gun in her game, did not fire, and she increased her frustration that her big shots missed the mark and Osaka found the line.
The 10th seed screamed at herself “to take a hit” as she mixed up easy faults with powerful winners to break early, but it looked as if the match would change when it collapsed.
Osaka’s interim serve, running 5-3, was broken to 30, with the crowd cheering on Williams, but the Japanese showed tremendous determination to respond immediately.
Williams broke for her love and then made four massive first serves, including one ace, to round off the match in 75 minutes.
What happens after Williams?
The biggest disappointment for Williams would be that, for large parts of the match, she held on to Osaka, before minor mistakes let her down.
Williams was extremely impressive against second seed Simona Halep in the quarter-finals and this looks like her best chance yet to beat Osaka for the second time in four matches.
Her mobility and general fitness are as good as they have been since returning from maternity leave in 2018.
But Osaka often led the long rallies, as her easy-going strength allowed her to finish the point with a winner, and Williams couldn’t find a way to overtake it, finishing with 24 easy fouls to 12 winners.
With first serve low, Williams tried to get herself going, but couldn’t do anything to stop Osaka from winning the last eight points of the match.
Her coach Patrick Muratoglu said the 39-year-old was “not obsessed” with matching the court record, but it is no secret that she used her to motivate her to return to the tour.
It has been said that by equalizing the record, Williams will secure her place as the best player of all time – but the warm applause from the crowd at the Road Laver Arena suggests that she has actually won the title.
Brady survives the frantic ending
Brady and Osaka described their semi-final meeting at Flushing Meadows as one of the best matches.
The US Open was a breakthrough for Brady at Grand Slam after suffering injuries and playing mostly doubles on her return.
The tougher of the two was against Machova, who stunned Ashley Barty in the quarter-finals, but required some real determination to win the match as the Czechs saved four match points.
The 22nd seed fell to her knees, thinking she turned her second match point when Muchova hit the net, before realizing her shot had been called up.
Brady’s team urged her to get up and she had to avoid two points of breakage as her opponent tried to get back into the set.
A thrilling 18-point match saw Brady win her fifth match-point as Machova sent a long forehand kick.