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In the Australian Open SF, Osaka beats Williams

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In the Australian Open SF, Osaka beats Williams

 

The 39-year-old American paused and placed her hand on her chest as thousands of spectators rose to cheers as Serena Williams walked off the court after her latest so-close-yet-so-far bid for a 24th Grand Slam title ended with a loss to Naomi Osaka at the Australian Open.

Was this, Williams was questioned after the 6-3, 6-4 semifinal loss at a news conference, her way of saying goodbye?

“If I ever say goodbye,” she answered with a smile, “I’m not going to say it to anyone.”

On Thursday (Wednesday night EST) when the next question returned the topic to the subject of Williams’ many errors-twice as many unforced mistakes, 24, as winners, 12-she shook her head, teared up, said, “I’m done,” and suddenly left the session with reporters.

At 7:30 p.m. on Saturday, Osaka will face first-time Grand Slam finalist Jennifer Brady of the United States for the championship, local time (3:30 a.m. EST). In an epic, 18-point final game, the 22nd-seeded Brady, who is from Pennsylvania and played college tennis at UCLA, prevailed to beat No. 25 Karolina Muchova 6-4, 3-6, 6-4 in the semifinals.

After saving a trio of break points, Brady fell to her back at the baseline, then converted her fifth match point when Muchova sent out a long forehand.

“It’s shaking my legs,” said Brady. “Racing is my heart.”

In a three-set thriller in the U.S, she lost to Osaka. Last September’s open semifinals.

“Whenever they play their first final, everyone’s really excited,” Osaka noted about what awaits Brady, “but they’re really nervous too.”

Williams hoped to get to her 34th Grand Slam final, but again, she couldn’t get the job done to add another Grand Slam trophy to her 23rd set and tie Margaret Court for the most in the history of tennis.

In the chaotic 2018 U.S., Osaka, who also defeated Williams The Open final, which ended with the booing of the crowd and both women in tears, entered her fourth major title match and extended her winning streak to 20 matches by taking the last eight points.

“I don’t know if there are any kids out here today, but I was a little kid watching her play,” Osaka, 23, said of Williams, “and it’s a dream for me just to be on the court playing against her.”

The Grand Slam set of No. 3-seeded Osaka also contains last year’s U.S. Open and the Australian Open in 2019 and she is the most dangerous hard-court player in the women’s game at the moment, without a doubt.

That, of course, used to be Williams. But in this contest, she was too off-target.

“I would have won. I should have been up 5-Love,’ Williams said, taking a 2-0 lead at the start before losing the next five games instead. “I have simply made so many mistakes.”

Her forehand, in particular, went awry, alone in the first set with no less than 10 unforced mistakes off that foot.

She said, “Too many mistakes there.” “Easy errors.”

Early in the second set, Williams’ frustration was made clear when she leaned over and screamed, ‘Make a shot! Make a fucking shot! ”

Williams has reached four major finals and lost them all after collecting her professional era-record 23rd Slam singles trophy at Melbourne Park while pregnant in 2017.

She has lost twice in the semifinals in the past three majors, too.

For top-ranked Novak Djokovic, who won 14 of his last Grand Slam semifinals, that stage was no problem. His record in the Melbourne Park semifinals is perfect, improving to 9-0 with a 6-3, 6-4, 6-2 win late Thursday over Aslan Karatsev, a Russian qualifier ranked No. 114 and making his major debut.

Djokovic is seeking a ninth title in the Australian Open and an overall 18th Grand Slam trophy. In his first Grand Slam tournament, Karatsev played.

Rafael Nadal, who lost to Stefanos Tsitsipas in the quarterfinals after blowing a two-set lead, and Roger Federer are tied for the 20th men’s record.

On Thursday, spectators were back in the stands after being barred from attending the tournament during a local COVID-19 lockdown for five days. About 7,000 people, roughly half the capacity, were allowed into the Williams-Osaka stadium.

Ushers walked at changeovers through the aisles to remind fans that they needed to wear a mask over their nose and mouth.

The temperature exceeded 85 degrees Fahrenheit (30 Celsius) on the hottest day of the hard-court tournament so far, Osaka got out to a shaky start, perhaps prodded into pressing a booming cross-court backhand return winner from Williams on the second point of the match in her opening service game.

A double-fault, a wild forehand and, eventually, a netted backhand that handed over a break followed that. Quickly, after another double-fault by Osaka, Williams went up 2-0, then held another break point with an opportunity to lead 3-0.

Osaka, who was born in Japan and moved to the U.S. when she was 3, said, “I was just really, like, nervous and scared, I think, at the start.” “And then I eased my way into it somewhat.”

It didn’t take long for her to right herself.

It was suddenly Osaka powering in aces, placing groundstrokes right where she needed, so well covering the court. In Melbourne, Williams’ action was terrific, but this time she was flat-footed.

Osaka has never tried to hide how much she admires Williams and models her American game after him.

Both are based on the same fundamental elements of big serves and fast-strike forehands, and on this day, not only did Osaka do both better, she also sounded like her idol, shouting “Come on!” “Several key shots later.

For Osaka, there was one last test. She wound up with eight for the match, a trio of double-faults in one game, allowed Williams to break for 4-all.

But another point wouldn’t be won by Williams.

Osaka quickly recovered her composure, with the aid of a pair of backhand winners and a double-fault from Williams, breaking back into love, then hanging on to love to finish it.

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