2018 US Open Women's Final Preview: Serena Williams vs. Naomi Osaka

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What's on the line for Serena Williams at the US Open? Just tennis history:

NEW YORK—A 36-year-old vs. a 20-year-old; a 23-time Grand Slam champ vs. major-final rookie; an idol vs. an idolizer. This year’s women’s final offers a battle of WTA generations. Osaka says she loves Serena so much, she was inspired to win her semifinal over Madison Keys just for the chance to stand on the other side of the net from her on Saturday.

Will Osaka be so awed by the sight of Williams that she forgets how to compete against her? That’s not what happened the only other time they played, in Miami in April. Serena’s comeback was just getting underway at that stage, and Osaka won easily, 6-3, 6-2. After the last point, Serena looked down and opened her eyes widely, as if to say, “Wow, I’ve got some work to do.” She obviously did the work, and now she’ll have her chance to avenge that loss. 

As far as their current form goes, both women played about as well as they could in their semifinals on Thursday. Serena added an entirely new element to her game—net play—in her breezy win over Anastasija Sevastova. By the end she was striking the ball as cleanly from the baseline as she has all year. Osaka was every bit as impressive in her highly controlled, highly mature victory over Keys. Two years ago at the Open, Osaka blew a 5-1 third-set lead against Keys. This time she was determined not to falter, and she didn’t, saving 13 of 13 break points and finding an ideal balance of power and control in her ground strokes.

So if both women are somewhere close to their best, who wins? The answer, in those terms, is obvious: Serena. Aside from a chance to win her 24th major and tie Margaret Court for the all-time record, she’ll also be motivated not to lose to Osaka a second straight time, and not to lose a second-straight Grand Slam final, after her Wimbledon defeat to Angelique Kerber. Unlike Kerber, Osaka will feed her the pace she likes. 

As for Osaka herself, will she be just the slightest bit satisfied to have reached a Grand Slam final and earned a place across from her idol? That’s certainly possible. But judging by the way she handled her prime-time semifinal appearance in Ashe on Thursday, I don’t believe Osaka will be overwhelmed by this moment, either. I think she’ll give Serena a fight. I just don’t think she’ll win. 

Winner: Williams


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