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Naomi Osaka reaches first Grand Slam final, sets up US Open showdown with hero Serena Williams

Hannah Wilks in WTA Tour 7 Sep 2018
  • Naomi Osaka will face Serena Williams in the final of the 2018 US Open
  • Osaka defeated Madison Keys 6-2, 6-4 to reach her first Grand Slam final
  • 'Surreal' experience for Osaka: 'I always dreamed that I would play Serena in a final of a Grand Slam'
Naomi Osaka celebrates victory over Madison Keys in the semifinals of the US Open (Photo by Sarah Stier/Getty Images)

'I always dreamed that I would play Serena in a final of a Grand Slam': Naomi Osaka sets up dream US Open final against her heroine Serena Williams after defeating Madison Keys.



Naomi Osaka reached her first Grand Slam final with a 6-2, 6-4 victory over Madison Keys at the US Open on Thursday.

The 20-year-old Osaka has dropped just one set at the tournament so far, in a close battle over Aryna Sabalenka in the fourth round that saw the Japanese-American player in tears afterwards. But since then, it was been all business from Osaka in wins over an ailing Lesia Tsurenko in the quarterfinals and Keys in the semifinals.

Osaka in action (Photo by Al Bello/Getty Images)
'I feel like every day that I play, I always want to keep improving, so I'm never really sure what my top level is,' Osaka said afterwards. 'But I think for sure today I played really well, and I had to because [Keys is] such a great player. She has a really good record against me.'

Keys had indeed won all three previous duels between the two - including, memorably, at the US Open two years ago, when Osaka led 5-1 in the third set before Keys came back to win in a deciding tie-break.

And it should have been Keys, on Thursday night, who handled the occasion better - after all, this was the American's fourth time in the semifinals of a Grand Slam, having reached the final of the US Open 12 months ago and lost to Sloane Stephens. But in fact it was Osaka's composure which was remarkable and impressive. Not only did she save those multiple break points to come back from 0-40 at 1-2, she had to save another two to consolidate her break of serve. Meanwhile, Keys, who should have been the more experienced player, started to panic, rush and miss badly, dropping serve to love in a welter of unforced errors to go down 2-5.

Two key rallies summed up Osaka's improvement and the gulf between herself and Keys as the 20-year-old served for the set. Pushed to 30-30 and then to deuce after letting her first set point slip, Osaka was twice pulled into long rallies - not what one associates with the Indian Wells champion. But she stayed patient, moved very well to keep the ball on her more solid backhand, and kept great depth on the ball even in defense. Both times, she outlasted Keys, who panicked and tried to rush a winner, and on her second set point, she produced a service winner to close out the set.

Keys congratulates Osaka  (Photo by Matthew Stockman/Getty Images)
'The last few times I've played Madison, I've been the one that's been trying to go for shots,' Osaka said. 'Today I was just trying to be more patient and maybe go for them when I had the opportunity. So I wasn't trying to hit that many winners or anything. Today was, I guess, business, too.'

Keeping a clear head was key to Osaka's early break in the second set, as she broke to lead 1-0 when she stopped the rally to correctly challenge a Keys forehand which had drifted long.

It was not a perfect performance from Osaka, who made plenty of unforced errors, but that's the understandable outgrowth of her big-hitting game. And although she faced 13 break points, Osaka saved every single one of them, doing a great job of finding her first serve at the biggest moments. She won another extended 17-shot rally at a key moment, break point down at the beginning of the second set as she tried to consolidate her break, and saved another with an absolutely superb backhand pass winner.

Keys tried everything to get back into the match at the beginning of the second set, beginning to attack the net, sometimes to great effect. But Osaka held for 2-0 after saving six break points in a 12-minute game, continuously finding her best tennis when break point down, including a second-serve ace down the T that had Keys gaping in disbelief. 

It proved to be the hinge of the match as Osaka would never again be seriously troubled on serve, although she did have to save another break point later in the set, and maintained her early break advantage, riding it to a straight-sets victory.

Some would think it was a dubious reward for reaching a first Grand Slam final to have to face the greatest of all time, six-time champion Serena Williams. Not so Osaka, who openly idolises Williams (although that didn't stop her from beating the American 6-3, 6-2 when they met in Miami in the spring).



'Of course it feels a little bit surreal,' Osaka said. '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.

'I really feel like I don't want to overthink this match, so I'm not going to think that she's so much better than she was in Miami. I'm just going to go out there and play. Since I already know she's a good player, I don't want to be surprised if she plays better or not.'

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Naomi Osaka reaches first Grand Slam final, sets up US Open showdown with hero Serena Williams

'I always dreamed that I would play Serena in a final of a Grand Slam': Naomi Osaka sets up dream US Open final against her heroine Serena Williams after defeating Madison Keys

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