By Arnie Leshin
One important thing to remember if you want to tune in to watch the Australian Open Women’s Tennis Tournament championship. If you are a late night viewer, it’s on Saturday morning at 1:30 on ESPN.
So there’s time or there’s another way, and that is to get a good night’s sleep and to instead catch the taped finals on Saturday afternoon or to read about it in the Saturday sports pages.
Now If you watched the women’s semifinals Thursday when 3rd-seeded Naomi Osaka of Japan disposed of 8th-seeded Serena Williams, 6-3, 6-4, in the first semis, you might stayed around for the post-match inteiview, where the 39-year legend followed the steps of Super Bowl loser Cam Newton, who after his Carolina Panthers had been stunned by the underdog Denver Broncos, sat on a table, cried his eyes out, waved off most questions, and then rushed off before the puzzled media.
Well, Williams had done the same thing after numerous defeats, so she was well prepared. Not used to straight-set setbacks, she answered a few questions, took a quick sip from a water bottle, then quietly said, “Done” and hurried off. The media wasn’t all that surprised because they had seen this before, but still they were questioning if this loss bothered Williams that much. Before entering the interview room, she had hugged the 23-year-old Osaka at the net, grabbed her gear and smiled and waved to the limited number of fans in the stands at Melbourne Park, as well as taping her heart before leaving leaving the court area.
Who knows, maybe she was bothered by the defeat but controlled her emotions until she ran into a stumbling block at the interview and decided to grab her gear and leave. Upon waving to the fans before that, she might have been giving a signal that this could be her final time at the Australian. What ever, her remarkable career might be winding down or she just felt it was a bad time as Osaka, who was born in Japan and now resides in Los Angeles, won her 20th straight match.
In the match itself, Williams began well, winning the first two sets on her serve and forehand. But her game toned down after Osaka handily took the next five sets and wrapped it up on on a 40-love sixth set. The second set began in the same manner, but this time is was Osaka getting on a quick roll and her serve resulted in five aces and and a impressive path to the title match.
Osaka has long viewed Williams as her idol, and this was her seventh win in a row over the record-breaking Williams.
When they hugged at the net at the end, Osaka later said, “It’s always a surreal moment, just to see her in real life, like close up.”
Before this, Williams had been 8-0 in the Australian Open semifinals, but it came to an abrupt halt when after the second set was knotted at 4-4, Osaka broke Williams at love, and then did the same on serve with a pair of aces, a forehand into the far corner, and a backhand down the line.
Now Osaka faces 22th-seeded Jennifer Brady, an American from Atlanta, Ga., and making her first Grand Slam final. She wound up the semis by turning back 27th-seeded Karolina Muchova of the Czech Republic in three sets, 2-6, 6-3, 6-4.
It was a tight match as Muchova was impressive with her quickness and net game, but it was Brady picking up her own serve and sending her rivals’ returns too deep to handle. In the deciding set, Brady hit some rapid shots down both lines, rushed to the net to capitalize when Muchova was standing too far back.
Brady said in the interview room that she expects to deal with some nerves against Osaka. The key will be limiting how much and for how long that affects her play.
“She’s playing very well,” Brady said in regard to Osaka. “She’s on a roll, likes this surface, and I will have to beat at my best to hold my own. You know, I think she’s going for her fourth Grand Slam crown while it’s my first. I’m happy to get this far, but I’d be happier to hoist the championship trophy.”