Once again, Serena Williams came within reach of a record-tying 24th Grand Slam singles title, playing well enough Thursday to get to the closing days of a major tournament. And once again, Williams couldn’t quite get it done, as she was defeated 6-3, 6-4 by Naomi Osaka in the Australian Open semifinals.
Osaka, who also beat Williams in the chaotic 2018 US Open final, reached her fourth major title match and stretched her winning streak to 20 matches by claiming the last eight points.
“I don’t know if there’s any little kids out here today, but I was a little kid watching her play,” Osaka, 23, said about Williams, 39, “and just to be on the court playing against her, for me, is a dream.”
Osaka will face 22nd-seeded American Jennifer Brady for the championship on Saturday. Brady beat No. 25 Karolina Muchova 6-4, 3-6, 6-4 in the other semifinal.
Brady claimed an epic, 18-point last game to reach her first Grand Slam final. She dropped to her back at the baseline after saving a trio of break points then converting her fifth match point when Muchova sent a forehand long.
“My legs are shaking,” Brady said. “My heart is racing.”
Brady lost to Osaka in a three-set thriller in the US Open semifinals in September.
“Everyone’s just really excited whenever they play their first final,” Osaka noted about what awaits Brady, “but they’re also really nervous.”
No. 3-seeded Osaka’s Grand Slam collection includes last year’s US Open and the 2019 Australian Open, and she is without a doubt the most dangerous hard-court player in the women’s game today.
That used to be Williams, of course. But she was off target too much in this contest, finishing with twice as many unforced errors (24) as winners (12).
“I could have won. I could have been up 5-love,” said Williams, who instead took a 2-0 lead at the outset before dropping the next five games. “I just made so many errors.”
Her forehand, in particular, went awry, with no fewer than 10 unforced errors off that side in the first set alone.
“Too many mistakes there,” she said. “Easy mistakes.”
Williams’ frustration was visible early in the second set, when she leaned over and screamed, “Make a shot! Make a shot!”
After collecting her professional era-record 23rd Slam singles trophy at Melbourne Park while pregnant in 2017, Williams has reached four major finals and lost them all.
She also now has lost in major semifinals twice during that span.
Osaka joined two other players to win each of their first two major meetings against Serena Williams. Williams’ sister Venus won their first three major meetings at the 1998 Australian Open, 2000 Wimbledon and 2001 US Open. The other is Jennifer Capriati, at the 2001 French Open and 2001 Wimbledon, according to ESPN Stats & Information research.
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