Naomi Osaka Stopped Serena Williams and Her Latest Grand Slam Record Hopes

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Osaka won their Australian Open semifinal in straight sets, denying Williams a chance to tie the record for Grand Slam singles titles.

Naomi Osaka knocked Serena Williams out of the Australian Open on Thursday, but in relentlessly moving her from side to side on the court, did she also push Williams closer to retirement? After her 6-3, 6-4 defeat to Osaka in the semifinals, Williams left the Rod Laver Arena court to a standing ovation, which she recognized with a wave of her hand and a tapping of her heart.

After 20 Australian Opens, was Williams saying goodbye to a country of tennis fans that she described as “so amazing”?

“If I ever say farewell, I wouldn’t tell anyone,” she said in her post-match news conference, smiling weakly. “So …” Her voice trailed off.

Williams already had bemoaned her 18 unforced errors, including 10 on her forehand, considered one of the fiercest strokes in the women’s game.

“Not like I was on the run or anything,” she said, looking up at the ceiling to drive the tears back down. “They were just easy, easy mistakes.”

To what did she attribute all the unforced errors? Was it Osaka’s suffocating power? A bad day at the office? It was the eighth question of the news conference, and Williams’s composure crumbled.

“Uhh, I don’t know,” she said as she rose from her seat, crying. “I’m done.”

Williams has been stuck at 23 Grand Slam titles, one shy of the Australian Margaret Court’s career record, for four years, since winning the 2017 Australian Open while two months pregnant with her daughter, Alexis Olympia Ohanian.

Since returning to competition in 2018 after a difficult childbirth, which included a C-section delivery and complications stemming from blood clots, Williams has played in 11 Grand Slam tournaments and advanced to the semifinals or finals in six.

Meantime, the generation inspired by Williams is asserting itself. Players like Osaka are building their own legacies. Osaka quietly has compiled a 4-0 record in Grand Slam semifinals and won the championship in her previous three trips to the finals. “I have this mentality that people don’t remember the runners-up,” Osaka said, adding: “I fight the hardest in the finals. I think that’s where you sort of set yourself apart.”

Those are Williams’s sentiments exactly. During a recent tour of her South Florida home for Architectural Digest, she dismissed a runner-up prize on the shelf in her trophy room, saying she’d have to “put that one in the trash” because “we don’t keep second place” awards.

Over the past three years, Williams’s love for tennis and the joy she finds in competition have carried her through a pectoral injury, knee injuries and a left Achilles injury. She rededicated herself to the arduous — her word — task of improving her fitness, and where has it gotten her but on the wrong end of score lines in slugfests against considerably younger opponents like Osaka, 23, who fashioned her game after that of Williams, her childhood idol?




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