Before starting the Australian Open, someone asked Naomi Osaka how she handled being the ‘new’ face of women’s tennis. As long as Serena Williams is, the face is her,” she replied. The Japanese have always shown reverential respect for her idol, but on the track, everything is forgotten. Osaka defeated the American with authority (6-3, 6-4) and will seek her fourth Grand Slam title at age 23. A pendant with the word ‘Queen’ set in diamonds hangs from Serena’s neck, but the new women’s tennis crown has an owner.
It’s been four years since Williams’ last great. It was precisely at the Australian Open, against her sister Venus and two months pregnant.
Her dominance was then indisputable, she had won six of the last 10 Grand Slam tournaments and in the 10 he had reached at least the semifinals. But in these four years of drought, Naomi Osaka has burst in with force and that final of the US Open in 2018 is remembered less and less for the outbreak of Serena and more as a relay point. The Japanese, who has already linked 20 victories in a row, including the last US Open, closed her way again. Osaka entered the game late, giving up the service in the first game, but once inside there was no one to take her out. There had been a lot of talk in recent weeks about how well Williams’ three-month hiatus had done.
She was much more agile, reached more balls, defended with more ease. And as if she wanted to prove it for herself, Osaka shook her from side to side, opening up angles. The Japanese had problems with her first serve (she only got 36%), but the exchanges were hers. He gave up the first two games but tied the next five. His confidence in the hit contrasted with that of Serena, unknown in the first round. He hit only four winners, against 16 unforced errors. The American is not comfortable, who reprimanded herself even when she put in a great parallel right. “Make a shot! Make a shot!” Williams shouted after signing the first point of the second set with a great parallel right. She felt tense, the shots did not enter her, and in another improper failure on a climb, she looked up at the sky with an ironic smile. It wasn’t the day.
The only moment of doubt in Osaka appeared near the victory, in the eighth game of the second heat. The Japanese, faltering again in service, conceded a break with three double faults. But his reaction was resounding. The Japanese connected two winners to the rest and, after a double fault by Williams, took out the hammer: a very tight open right to a corner and a two-handed backhand to the opposite. Break-in white, fist raised, and victory on the track. All eight times Serena Williams had made it to the semifinals of the Australian Open, she had made her way to the final. On seven occasions he left with the title. Not this time, ousted again by Naomi Osaka in her pursuit of Margaret Court’s 24 titles. From her neck hangs a pendant with the word ‘Queen’ set in diamonds, but the crown of women’s tennis seems already in the hands of Osaka. That there is also the Melbourne title can only be prevented by Jennifer Brady or Karolina Muchova.