It’s fair to say that Serena Williams has met her Serena Williams in Naomi Osaka.
Osaka denied Serena another chance at her 24th Grand Slam title, 6-3, 6-4. And that makes it sound like a pretty close match. It wasn’t. The scoreline only looks like that because Osaka allowed it to. She started out incredibly nervy, not able to locate her serve with the help of Deputy U.S. Marshall Samuel Gerard. Serena got an early break, and had a look at a double-break.
And then Osaka saved that, then ripped off the next five games to choke-slam the first set. Osaka might be the only player on tour who can simply take Serena out of the equation. She has so much power she simply pushes her opponent around, hardly giving them time to see the ball, much less muster a response. It doesn’t matter who’s on the other side of the net if they’re being pushed off the baseline and side-to-side so ruthlessly. Serena can’t be Serena if she’s backing up or scrambling.
Osaka immediately broke Serena in the first game of the second set, and Serena only got back into the set when Osaka had an off service game at 4-3. Which didn’t matter, because Osaka blitzed Serena in the very next game and broke, and then served it out no muss, no fuss.
Osaka says all the right things about being intimidated by Serena, or being nervous facing her idol. But her game shows absolutely none of that. Her game shows that she doesn’t give a shit. Start out nervous and go down a break? Don’t give a shit, and take the next five games. Serena starts getting vocal in the second set trying to pump herself and the crowd up, which has turned almost every other player to stone before her? Don’t give a shit, and go up a break and cruise. Toss away a game while serving for the match? Don’t give a shit, and take the next two games while barely blinking.
You never see Osaka crack. Even through her too-many double faults, she simply gets on to the next point. She’s going to play her game, she’s going to wail her forehand and direct her backhand to angles that defy geometry. She’s going to be the loudest protester at the US Open last year. She’s going to do what she’s going to do, and her game is so big that there isn’t anything anyone can do about it when it’s on. She don’t give a shit.
Osaka has a chance now to claim her fourth Grand Slam in her last eight appearances. She still hasn’t sorted out either the French Open or Wimbledon, where the trickier surfaces don’t allow her to set up as comfortably to unleash her thunderous groundstrokes. Yet, you get the feeling she will sharpish. When she does, there might not be anyone to stop her from racking up a total that would have her walking with giants of the game as well.
As for Serena, we’ve discussed that it doesn’t really matter if she gets No. 24 or not, though it would be a glorious trinket. But every legend eventually is struck down by their successor. Sampras lost to Federer. Serena wiped out all that came before her, and kept everyone down for 20 goddamn years. Her status atop the sport’s Olympus is secure. And she’s not done yet. Her movement this tournament is as good as it’s been in years, and if she’s so determined that will serve her well. Osaka might not be waiting in Rolland Garros or Wimbledon.
But at this age, with this mileage, the standard has been reset. And it’s Osaka.
Let’s cap it off with me being a tad selfish, and using the hometown team for this Philipp Kurashev goal in the Hawks 2-0 win over the Red Wings:
Troy Stecher, bud, you don’t need to try and showcase the plight of being a Red Wing right now in just one play. We’ve all seen this cycle.