March 4, 2021

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No. 3 Naomi Osaka defeats No. 10 Serena Williams to advance to Australian Open final

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Serena Williams’ long quest for a 24th Grand Slam title will have to wait. Because once again, the best player in women’s tennis stood in her way. 

Naomi Osaka, who hasn’t lost an official match since last February, put together a dominating performance in the Australian Open semifinals, beating Williams 6-3, 6-4 and ending hopes that the 39-year old American would tie Margaret Court’s all-time Slam record at this tournament.

Osaka, seeking her fourth major title and second Australian Open championship, will play American Jennifer Brady, the No. 22 seed. 

Williams had to put together a fantastic tournament before the semifinals, beating No. 7 Aryna Sabalenka and No. 2 Simona Halep and flying around the court with more speed and flexibility than she had displayed in several years. 

Naomi Osaka plays a backhand against Serena Williams during their Australian Open semifinal match.

But in the semifinals, Williams struggled to deal with the power off the ground Osaka was able to generate and finished the match with 23 unforced errors to just 12 winners. 

Williams had chances to get the early lead as Osaka struggled with nerves in the first few games. But Osaka eventually found her rhythm and started taking control of points with heavy groundstrokes and pinning Williams in the corners. After dropping her serve in the opening game of the match, Osaka broke Williams twice and ran away with the first set despite making just 36% of her first serves. 

“I was just really, like, nervous and scared, I think, at the beginning,” Osaka said after the match. “And then I sort of eased my way into it.”

Williams showed more energy and played with more focus in the second set, getting it to 4-4 with a break where Osaka double-faulted three times. But Osaka immediately broke back at love to set up an opportunity to serve out the match.  

Williams hasn’t won a Grand Slam since the 2017 Australian Open, going 0-4 in major finals since returning to the tour after becoming a mother.   

After the match, Williams was asked if her lengthy salute to the Melbourne fans was her saying goodbye. 

“I don’t know. If I ever say farewell I wouldn’t tell anyone,” Williams said. 

She then abruptly ended her press conference after breaking down while attempting to answer the next question.   

Contributing: Associated Press

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