Melbourne, Australia—Naomi Osaka who appeared nervous playing against her idol swung out of the gate to start the semifinal round.
Osaka, who won the US Open last year, is now on course to make it back to back Grand Slam titles. She overcame early jitters to beat Serena Williams 6-3, 6-4 to make it 20 wins in a row.
It was another setback for Williams as she came up short in her 10th attempt to move closer with Margaret Court’s record of 24 major singles titles.
Osaka, whose last defeat came on February 7, 2020, said on court: “I was really nervous and scared in the beginning but I eased my way into it.”
“It was about having fun and it was the first day having a crowd for a while. It’s an honor to play her and I didn’t want to go out really bad so I just tried my best.” Osaka said.
Williams’s last Grand Slam title came at the 2017 Australian Open, which she won while two months pregnant with her daughter, Alexis Olympia Ohanian. Serena has played in 11 Grand Slam tournaments and advanced to the semifinals or finals in six of them.
In the final, Osaka will face Jennifer Brady, who beat Karolina Muchova of the Czech Republic, 6-4, 3-6, 6-4.
The numbers were in Williams’ favor; Serena had won all her previous eight semi-finals at Melbourne Park, had not lost to a top-three player at a Grand Slam since 2007, and had beaten Osaka in their last two meetings.
Naomi struggled with her ball toss in the sunlight and double-faulted on her way to dropping serve in the opening game.
The 23-year-old settled down, won five games in a row and held her nerve to serve it out at the end.
Osaka had won eight out of nine games before Williams could stop the onslaught with a hold for 1-2.
Williams roared back to tie it at 4-4, but Naomi quickly broke back to love and wrapped up victory in an hour and 15 minutes.
Serena gave the crowd inside the Rod Laver Arena a long wave goodbye with her hand on her heart, prompting questions about whether she would be coming back.
“For me, I have this mentality that people don’t remember the runners-up. You might, but the winner’s name is the one that’s engraved,” Osaka said.
When they hugged at the net at the end, this is what went through Osaka’s head: “Always a surreal moment, just to see her in real life, like, close up.”