By Ros Satar

  • Serena Williams [17] v Naomi Osaka [19]
  • H2H: Osaka leads 1-0
NEW YORK, USA – Serena Williams is once more a win away from equalling Margaret Court’s Slam record, while Naomi Osaka eyes up her maiden Slam title.

 

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It is a near perfect script once more at the US Open, as the final Slam of the year closes with a mouth-watering prospect of a final. When Naomi Osaka won Indian Wells, we had a glimpse of the future for the WTA. But that was before Serena Williams got back in her groove, and a run to the Wimbledon final signalled that she was back. To make back to back Slam finals merely underlines that.

 

Serena Williams’ Path to the Final

Serena Williams in the quarter-final of the US Open, New York 2018

Serena Williams in the quarter-final of the US Open, New York 2018 | (Photo by Matthew Stockman/Getty Images)

  • R1: Magda Linette 6-4 6-0
  • R2: Carina Witthoeft 6-2 6-2
  • R3: Venus Williams [16] 6-1 6-2
  • R4: Kaia Kanepi 6-0 4-6 6-3
  • QF: Karolina Pliskova [8] 6-4 6-3
  • SF: Anastasija Sevastova 6-3 6-0

With straight forward wins in the first two rounds, all indications that Williams meant business was her demolishing of older sister Venus, for the loss of just three games. Her toughest match was against Kaia Kanepi, who had done for Simona Halep in the first round, and gave Williams pause for thought after an extremely one-sided first set.

She eased past Karolina Pliskova, and stormed past Anastasija Sevastova, and now she has a chance to put paid to Osaka’s victory over her in Miami, still early on in her comeback.

It might still be a work in progress for Williams as she works her way back up the rankings since the birth of her daughter, but if this is a work in progress, then look out when she feels she is right back up there.

 

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Naomi Osaka’s Path to the Final

Naomi Osaka in the quarter-final of the US Open, New York 2018

Naomi Osaka in the quarter-final of the US Open, New York 2018 | (Photo by Tim Clayton/Corbis via Getty Images)

  • R1: Laura Siegemund 6-3 6-2
  • R2: Julia Glushko [Q] 6-2 6-0
  • R3: Aliaksandra Sasnovich 6-0 6-0
  • R4: Aryna Sabalenka [26] 6-3 2-6 6-4
  • QF: Lesia Tsurenko 6-1 6-1
  • SF: Madison Keys [14] 62 6-4

Wonderfully quirky once off the court or out of match play conditions, but om the court she has been a model of ruthlessness. She delivered a ‘double bagel’ in her third round, and was equally impressive in her quarter-final where in the previous match she had been overcome with emotion. But her dispatch of last year’s finalist Madison Keys proves that she has turned a corner in terms of her on court maturity.

 

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Serena Williams [17] v Naomi Osaka [19] | H2H: Osaka leads 1-0

It probably does not serve us well to regard the head to head – it was very early in Williams’ comeback, having only returned to the tour at Indian Wells, before drawing the champion Osaka in the first round of Miami.

However, on the flip side, it is a win that ought to give Osaka some confidence. To come through winning the biggest title of her life to playing one her biggest idols did not seem to faze her.

However, a lot has changed since then. Osaka has looked in solid form and her biggest burst of emotion was to reach the quarter-finals, but since then she has looked every part the Slam winner incumbent.

Williams, of course, has been here before. She has had a few nerves when history, or at least drawing with history, has beckoned. 18 was a hump to get over, 22 was a huge achievement after a couple of false starts, and now she has a chance to close out her comeback year equalling the record of Margaret Court. Given that she feels there is still a lot of room for improvement, then 2019 should be quite the ride.

But we are getting ahead of ourselves. Two aggressive players, Osaka has been effective at clobbering winners off both wings and comes readily equipped with a heavy forehand and a not too shabby backhand either. She serves well, and more importantly consistency, and has a lot of variety to her shots in terms of pace and spin.

Williams will look to take control of the rally early and will be hoping for a reliable serving day and while she jokes that she ‘used to’ be good at the net with her previous doubles, she is one of the best volleyers in the game and certainly can defend well when she has to.

The question will be the nerves – will Osaka struggle on the brink of joining the Slam winners’ club, or will the shadow of 24 loom large over Williams, in the same way that trying to equal Chris Evert, Martina Navratilova and Steffi Graf did?

The heart might want to see what kind of winner’s speech we would get from Osaka, but most of the modern, inclusive tennis world would love to see Williams be the first women to win 24 Grand Slam titles all in the Open era and if nothing else, put herself within one slam more of eclipsing Court once and for all.

Prediction: Williams in three sets.

 

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