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Serena Williams vs Naomi Osaka: How have previous first-time Grand Slam finalists fared against the great Serena?

Leye Aduloju in WTA Tour 8 Sep 2018
  • Serena Williams takes on Naomi Osaka in the US Open final on Saturday, 8 September, live from 4:00pm local time/ 9:00pm BST
  • We look back at how previous first-time Grand Slam finalists have fared against Serena
Serena Williams lost to first-time Grand Slam finalist, Angelique Kerber at the 2016 Australian Open. (Photo by PETER PARKS/AFP/Getty Images)

Serena Williams hasn’t always had her way against first-time Grand Slam finalists, which should give underdog, Naomi Osaka some encouragement heading into Saturday’s US Open final.

Of Serena’s previous 30 Grand Slam finals, seven have been against first-time finalist, with the great American holding a 5-2 lead in those matches. We look back at Serena’s seven matches against first-time Grand Slam finalists.

Maria Sharapova, Wimbledon 2004

When Serena Williams took on a teenage Maria Sharapova in the 2004 Wimbledon final, the great American had already amassed six majors and, and was chasing a hat-trick of Wimbledon titles. Sharapova, by contrast, was playing in just her seventh Grand Slam, and had only been to the last eight of a major just once in her career. However, the Russian youngster showed very little sign of nerves as she powered to a stunning 6-1 6-4 victory over her American opponent. Williams launched a brief fight back in the second set, and led by a break, but Sharapova remarkably maintained her poise, forced her way back to parity before finishing off a tremendous performance.

Jelena Jankovic, US Open 2008

While Serena Williams was the overwhelming favourite against the rookie Sharapova at the All England Club, Jelena Jankovic was thought to have a very good chance against the American at this 2008 US Open final.

Williams wasn’t quite the dominant force on the tour in 2008- she had won just two majors in the previous five years, and had not been No. 1 in the world since 2003. Jankovic had reached the semi-finals at the Australian Open and Roland Garros, was ranked a spot above Serena at No. 2, and had briefly held the No. 1 ranking a few weeks earlier. The Serbian had also beaten Serena earlier in the year, and was a respectable 3-4 against the American on head-to-head. Jankovic competed well, troubling Serena with her trademark defence, but Williams broke midway through the opening set, and went on to take the set. 

Jankovic refused to go away, and had her chances late in the second set but she failed to convert any of four set points as nerves apparently took over for the first time in the match. Jankovic served for the set at 5-4, but she lost three games in a row to concede a 6-4 7-5 defeat.

“I gave her a lot of gifts when it was crucial,” Jankovic rued at the end.

Victory for Serena took her to nine major titles, restored her to No. 1 in the world. “I’m pushing the doors to double digits, which I obviously want to get to... I feel like I can do it.” Serena said at the time. Look where she is now!

Vera Zvonareva, Wimbledon 2010

Serena Williams dominated the 2010 Wimbledon final against first-time major finalist, Vera Zvonareva, dismissing the Russian, 6-3 6-2 to win her fourth Wimbledon title, and her 13th major crown, moving past Billie-Jean King to sixth on the all-time list. Serena was world number one, and had won five of her six meetings against the 21st seed, Zvonareva. This was not about Zvonareva melting down or getting nervous, Serena was simply too good on the day.

Serena Williams eased past Vera Zvonareva at Wimbledon in 2010. (Photo by Matthew Stockman/Getty Images)

Agnieszka Radwanska, Wimbledon 2012

For the second time in three years, Serena Williams took on a first-time Grand Slam finalist at Wimbledon, but this time, she was made to work harder by the crafty Agnieszka Radwanska, who pushed the American to three sets. Between her 2010 triumph against Zvonareva and the 2012 final against Radwanska, Williams had missed almost a year after suffering a leg injury and pulmonary embolism. 

Serena had not won a major since beating Zvonareva at Wimbledon, and was seeded sixth for the tournament, while Radwanska, at the peak of her powers, was the third seed. However, Radwanska’s lack of a major offensive weapon meant she was always up against it against her American opponent, while her hopes were further hit by a respiratory illness that had forced her to pull out of the women’s doubles earlier in the week. Despite all of that, the Pole gave a decent account of herself, digging out the second set to push the match to a decider, but William’s power was ultimately too much, as the American picked up a record-equalling fifth Wimbledon title, and returned to No. 1 in the world.

Serena Williams and Agnieszka Radwanska pose with their 2012 trophies. (Photo by Julian Finney/Getty Images)

Lucie Safarova, French Open, 2015

Lucie Safarova flirted with a stunning come-from-behind victory in the 2015 French Open final when she led 2-0 in the final set, but Serena roared back to win the next six games to claim her 20th Grand Slam title. Williams had been bothered by flu on the eve of the final, but she didn’t appear bothered as she opened up a set and a double-break lead. However, from the comfort of 6-3 4-1, she lost her way completely as Safarova got both breaks back. Serena broke again for the 6-5 lead, but a battling Safarova won the next four games to take the second set and open up a 2-0 lead in the third. This was where Serena turned on the afterburners, winning six games in a row to end Safarova’s brave challenge.

Garbine Muguruza, Wimbledon 2015

Unlike Radwanska and Safarova in the matches above, Garbine Muguruza didn’t take a set off Serena in their 2015 Wimbledon final, but she certainly wasn’t disgraced by the legendary American in her maiden major final at Wimbledon 2015. Muguruza made a confident start, opening up a 4-2 lead over Williams, but the Spaniard faltered in the face of a fierce fight-back from Serena, who won nine of the next ten games to establish a 6-4 5-1 lead. It was only then that Muguruza opened her shoulders once again to produce a fight back of her own. It wasn’t quite good enough, as she fell 6-4 6-4. With that, Serena completed the Serena-Slam for the second time in her career.

Muguruza avenged that defeat at the French Open final in 2016, while she took out the elder Williams, Venus in the 2017 Wimbledon final to pick up her second major title.

Muguruza fell short at Wimbledon 2015. (Photo by GLYN KIRK/AFP/Getty Images)

Angelique Kerber, Australian Open 2016

Angelique Kerber became the second first-time Grand Slam finalist to beat Serena Williams in a major final, emulating Maria Sharapova from 2004. Stifling Serena with her superb defence and picking her off with her wonderful transition game, the German upset the great American, taking the first major step in glorious 2016. Serena gained her revenge in the Wimbledon final later in the year, but Kerber made it two majors for the season by winning the US Open (beat Pliskova in the final), ending the year as the No. 1 player in the world.

There’s certainly plenty to encourage Osaka in there- first-time finalists have caused Serena trouble in the past. Can the Japanese young gun pull off the monumental upset?

Serena Williams vs Naomi Osaka is live from New York on Saturday, 8 September from 4:00pm local time/ 9:00pm BST. Read the full match preview here!

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Serena Williams vs Naomi Osaka: How have previous first-time Grand Slam finalists fared against the great Serena?

As Naomi Osaka prepares for her first Grand Slam final against Serena Williams, we look back at how other first-time finalists have fared against the great American.

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