Naomi Osaka achieved an impressive victory over Serena Williams to reach the Australian Open final and complete America’s latest quest for a record 24th Grand Slam title.
Triple Slam champion Osaka withstood early Williams pressure to win 6-3 6-4.
Osaka is unbeaten in a series of 20 games and has never lost a Slam final.
The Japanese will face Jennifer Brady in Saturday’s final after the American defeated Karolina Muchova.
Brady beat the Czech Republic 6-4 3-6 6-4 to secure a place in his first Grand Slam final.
It will be a rematch of the semifinals of the 2020 U.S. Open, which Osaka went through in three sets.
“At first I was really nervous and scared, and then I kind of made my way easier,” Osaka said of her match with Williams.
“I’m always honored to play her and I just didn’t want to go out, I just wanted to do my best.”
It’s the first time Williams has lost a semifinal at the Australian Open in eight appearances in the last four.
Williams will be left to take advantage of opportunities she misses and once again wonders if she will equal the main record of Margaret Court.
Osaka keeps to itself
The last meeting between Osaka and Williams at the Grand Slam tournament took place in the final of the US Open in 2018 – a match remembered by Williams’ outburst on the judge and Osaka’s tears at the presentation ceremony.
Since then, Osaka has won two more major titles and climbed to third place in the world rankings, as well as finding more confidence and composure on the field.
Williams made a better start with all her experience, breaking the nervous Osaka in the first game of the match before she held her own serve and took a 2-0 lead.
Although Osaka’s serve was not the best, her strength and increasingly comfortable movement allowed her to fight back, taking advantage of the fall in Williams’ game to win six of the last seven games and take the first set.
Williams ’own serve, such a big weapon in her game, didn’t fire, and she became increasingly frustrated as her big shots missed the target and Osaka found the line.
The tenth seed yelled at herself to “shoot,” as she mixed light mistakes with powerful winners to break up early, but it looked like the match would move when it came back.
The Osaka rehearsal, which served as a 5-3 lead, was knocked down to 30 as the crowd cheered Williams, but the Japanese showed huge sands to fight back immediately.
She broke Williams to fall in love and then produced four huge first serves, including one ace, to finish the match in 75 minutes.
What about Williams?
The biggest frustration for Williams will be that, in large parts of the match, she held on to Osaka, before simple mistakes let her down.
Williams was so impressive against second seed Simona Halep in the quarterfinals and this seemed like the best opportunity for her to beat Osaka for the second time in four matches.
Her movement and overall fitness are just as good as after returning from maternity leave in 2018.
But Osaka often came out on top in longer rallies, ease allowed her to score a point with a winner, and Williams couldn’t find a way past her, ending up with 24 unforced errors to 12 winners.
With a drop in the percentage of first serve, Williams tried to persuade herself, but could do nothing to prevent Osaka from winning the last eight points of the match.
Her coach Patrick Mouratoglou said the 39-year-old is “not obsessed” with matching Court’s record, but it’s no secret that she used it to motivate her return to the Tour.
It was said that by equaling the record, Williams would secure her status as the greatest of all time – but the hearty applause given to her by the audience at Rod Laver Arena suggests that she has already secured that title.
Brady survives the hectic end
Brady and Osaka described their semi-final match at Flushing Meadows as one of their best matches.
The US Open was Brady’s Grand Slam breakthrough after battling injuries and mostly playing doubles upon his return.
She was more solid than the two against Muchova, who stunned Ashleigh Barty in the quarterfinals, but she needed the right rhythm to win the match as the Czech saved four match points.
The 22nd seed fell to her knees, thinking she had turned her second match ball when Muchova hit the net, before realizing it was called her own kick.
Brady’s team persuaded her to get up and she had to defend two break points as her opponent tried to fight her way back into the set.
With a sharp game of 18 points, Brady secured the victory on her fifth match ball, while Muchova sent a forehand.
BBC tennis correspondent Russell Fuller
None had the best day to serve, and the quality was not as high as we expected, but Naomi Osaka certainly knows how to end the match.
She scored her last eight points in the semifinals right after serving three double faults in a service drop. The ranking still doesn’t reflect that, but she’s playing as the best in the world since touring resumed in August.
Only time will tell how many more chances Serena Williams has to equal the all-time record of Margaret Court.
At the beginning of her 24th full year of the tour, she played and moved extremely well, and she was good enough to beat Simona Halep in straight sets in the quarterfinals.
But Osaka – like the others in the recent Williams semi-final and Grand Slam final – proved too far on the bridge.
Osaka, 23, has a 16-year advantage. The average age of the top 10 players is currently 25 years.
Let’s hope Williams wants to play on. Her search for a court record remains a lasting fascination, even if failure should not remotely affect the way her career is experienced.