On what promised to be an exciting night of tennis, both Serena Williams and Naomi Osaka made quick work of their respective semifinal opponents on Thursday, setting up an intriguing U.S. Open final on Saturday.
Things started slowly for Serena as she took on 19th seeded Latvian Anastasija Sevastova in the night’s opening match. Sevastova was the one who came out strong, breaking Serena in the opening game and consolidating with her serve, building a quick 2-0 lead before much of the Arthur Ashe crowd could even find their seats.
But Serena stopped the potential upset bid right in its tracks. She grinded out a hold of serve to get on the board at 1-2, and would win 12 of the final 13 games of the match to storm past Sevastova and into her ninth U.S. Open final.
“I knew playing against her, I felt like, you know, I needed to get to the net a little bit more,” said Serena of her game plan headed in. “I know how to play at the net, I have great volleys…It’s just the fact of turning it on and actually doing it. Somehow it worked tonight. I actually did it.”
This time last year, the Wimbledon finalist and six-time U.S. Open champion was in the hospital recovering from complications due to child birth, something that was not lost not on her after her victory on Thursday.
“I got a little emotional out there because last year I was literally fighting for my life in the hospital,” she said. “To come from that, in the hospital bed, not being able to move and walk and do anything, now only a year later, I’m not training, but I’m actually in these finals, in two in a row.
Like I said, this is the beginning. I’m not there yet. I’m on the climb still. I just feel like not only is my future bright, even though I’m not a spring chicken, but I still have a very, very bright future. That is super exciting for me.”
Part of that future will be on Saturday night, when she takes on 20-year-old and 20th seed Naomi Osaka, who continued her ravenous run this fortnight with a sound 6-2, 6-4 victory over last year’s runner-up Madison Keys.
Osaka is now the first Japanese woman in the Open Era to reach a Grand Slam final, saving a remarkable 13 break points against the 14th seeded Keys.
“This still feels really weird, because I’ve never beaten Madison before. She’s such a good player,” Osaka told ESPN on-court after her win. “I just tried to think that I’ve never been in this situation before, and I’m just really happy to be here.”
Osaka was raised on Long Island when she was a kid before moving to Florida to train, but New York still has a special place in her heart.
“I always thought if I were to win a Grand Slam, the first one I’d want to win is the U.S. Open, because I have grown up here and then my grandparents can come and watch,” she said. “I think it would be really cool.”
She will have the chance to do so on Saturday when she squares off against Serena, a 23-time Grand Slam champion. Both players have been unconscious throughout the tournament in Queens, each has only dropped one set through their first six matches, setting up what should be a thrilling championship match.
Osaka won the only previous matchup, a straight-sets win in Miami earlier this year.
“Of course it feels a little bit surreal. Even when I was a little kid, I always dreamed that I would play Serena in a final of a Grand Slam. Just the fact that it’s happening, I’m very happy about it,” said Osaka. “At the same time, I feel like even though I should enjoy this moment, I should still think of it as another match. Yeah, I shouldn’t really think of her as my idol. I should just try to play her as an opponent.”
Brian Coleman is the Senior Editor for New York Tennis Magazine. He may be reached at email@example.com