US Open Women’s Final – Serena Williams vs Naomi Osaka
Sunday, September 9th, 2018, 1:30 am
Arthur Ashe Stadium
Few eyebrows would be raised at the presence of Serena Williams in the US Open Final – she is, after all, on the brink of equalling the record for Grand Slam victories, as well as breaking her own record for oldest Grand Slam champion. But that it’s Japan’s Naomi Osaka standing in her way is a surprise, the 20-year-old outsider who has defied the odds to reach the showpiece match.
Osaka beat Madison Keys in the semi-final, 6-2, 6-4, but wasn’t even born when Williams made her professional debut. Indeed, Williams has been playing in – and winning – Grand Slams since Osaka was a toddler, and this is a clash of the generations.
It won’t be the first time Osaka and Williams have met, with Osaka taking an emphatic victory over Williams in March. Williams was still rusty, having played only four matches since her return to action after the birth of her daughter, but the 6-3, 6-2 victory for Osaka was fully deserved.
Osaka clearly has a bright future in the sport. The first female Japanese player to reach a Grand Slam final, Osaka is currently ranked 19th and first broke into the world’s top 50 in 2016. 2018 has already brought a win over Maria Sharapova and when considering the women’s game’s future stars, Osaka’s name deserves to be mentioned at the top of the list.
That said, Williams’ time is far from up. She’s already reached one Grand Slam final since her return daughter, losing at Wimbledon to Angelique Kerber. With the stinging experience of playing Osaka earlier this year – a defeat so comprehensive Williams ignored the post-match press conference – it’s hard to see how she will be denied here.
Osaka does have the power to go shot for shot with Williams, that’s true. But at this stage of the tournament, it’s not just about physical or technical gifts. It’s a match that can be won or lost mentally, and coping with the pressure of a final comes with experience. Osaka is widely expected to get there in time, but only one woman has won in more Grand Slam finals than Williams – Margaret Court, and her record of 24 would be equalled with a Williams victory.
Two things will be crucial for Osaka – not letting the sight of Serena standing opposite her affect her game, and getting her first serves in. Osaka has highlighted the Williams sisters and Sharapova as players she wanted to face, and no doubt she’d have picked a Grand Slam final as the stage if she could have. Now she’s got what she wished for.
As for the serves, statistics show that Williams wins 78% of points on her first serve, as compared to 59% for Osaka. Dominating the first serve has been a fruitful ploy for previous conquerors of Williams and it’s the best blueprint for victory available to Osaka – it’s just easier said than done.