Now just one victory away from equalling Margaret Court’s all-time record of 24 Grand Slams, Serena Williams heads into the US Open final standing on the precipice of history. But in her way is Naomi Osaka, looking to make history of her own. No Japanese man or woman has ever lifted a Grand Slam title in singles, but after a terrific fortnight Osaka finds herself closer than any of her compatriots have ever been, except Kei Nishikori who lost here in the final four years ago. Who will claim the title?
Williams and Osaka have met just once before in a clash that came earlier this year at the Miami Open in the first round. It was only Williams’ second tournament back from maternity leave, whilst Osaka arrived in the Sunshine State fresh from recording the biggest win of her career in Indian Wells. Both surely considered it bad luck to meet an opponent of such quality so early, but Osaka emerged a comfortable victor, overwhelming Williams with her formidable power to win 6-3 6-2.
Path to the final
Williams began her US Open campaign with dominant victories over Magda Linette and Carina Witthoeft, who she beat 6-4 6-0 and 6-2 6-2, respectively. That set up a clash with her sister Venus which the younger Williams dominated to win 6-1 6-2. After a fast start against Kaia Kanepi, the Estonian dug in to win the second set but Williams eventually prevailed 6-0 4-6 6-3. She then brushed aside eighth seed Karolina Pliskova, 6-4 6-2, and first-time semifinalist Anastasija Sevastova, 6-3 6-0.
Osaka opened her tournament with a clinical 6-3 6-2 win over Laura Siegemund. She was then untouchable in a 6-2 6-0 win against Julia Glushko and even better in crushing Aliaksandra Sasnovich 6-0 6-0 in the third round. But she had to work hard to overcome the big-hitting New Haven champion Aryna Sabalenka 6-3 2-6 6-4. That win was followed by an impressive 6-1 6-1 win over Lesia Tsurenko before she ousted 2017 finalist Madison Keys 6-2 6-4 in the semifinals.
How do they match up?
At their best, both Williams and Osaka are power players able to take the racquet out of their opponent’s hand. So far Williams has been able to do just that to every opponent she has faced, with the exception of Kaia Kanepi in the second set of their fourth round clash. Crucial to her success has been how well she has been serving. She is unquestionably the best server in the women’s game and leads the US Open ace race with 64 to her name, 29 more than her nearest competitor.
That excellent serving, she is also winning 78% of the points behind her first serve, has provided her with the platform to win matches and covered for the fact that her game off the ground has yet to hit its peak. But it may need to against Osaka. The Japanese has been in terrific form all tournament and has been hitting through opponents impressively, having struck 96 winners so far in New York. Her mental fortitude against Keys was also encouraging with Osaka saving every break point she faced.
Both Williams and Osaka will face their biggest test of the tournament when they step out onto court on Saturday. But the player better equipped to pass that test looks to be Osaka. She has been playing without even a hint of fear all tournament, she has a victory over Williams to remember and, at the moment, she has the more complete game. No opponent has yet found an answer for her power, and Williams won’t either. The wait to make history will go on for Williams. Osaka in three.