Naomi Osaka of Japan plays a backhand in her Women’s Singles Semifinals match against Serena Williams of the United States during day 11 of the 2021 Australian Open at Melbourne Park on February 18 2021 in Melbourne, Australia. Picture: GETTY IMAGES/MACKENZIE SWEETNAM
Naomi Osaka of Japan plays a backhand in her Women’s Singles Semifinals match against Serena Williams of the United States during day 11 of the 2021 Australian Open at Melbourne Park on February 18 2021 in Melbourne, Australia. Picture: GETTY IMAGES/MACKENZIE SWEETNAM

Melbourne — The intimidation factor of Serena Williams lasted two games for Naomi Osaka at the Australian Open on Thursday before she turned the tables on the US great and stormed into her second Melbourne final with a dominant 6-3 6-4 win at Rod Laver Arena.

After dropping serve and falling 2-0 behind, Osaka said she needed to focus on her own game to end Williams’ bid for a record-equalling 24th Grand Slam title.

“I was definitely really nervous,” Osaka told reporters. “It’s very intimidating to serve for the first game and see her on the other side of the net.

“I was worried about what she would do if I were to hit a soft ball. Yeah, I think when it was like 2-0, I was just telling myself to control what I can control and try to play within myself instead of thinking about what she would do or anything like that.”

Osaka has now beaten Williams at two Grand Slams, having toppled her in a stormy US Open final in 2018 for her first Major title. Set to battle Jennifer Brady on Saturday for a fourth Grand Slam title by the age of 23, Osaka is rapidly developing the aura that helped Williams to nearly two dozen major trophies.

Brady ensured there would be an American in the final after Williams’ exit by downing Karolina Muchova 6-4 3-6 6-4 in the earlier semifinal.

Certainly Osaka played Williams’ role of aggressor in their match, firing down bazooka forehands that the 39-year-old struggled to retrieve. She showed Williams-esque ruthlessness too, hammering down four first serves to close out the match.

The Japanese third seed will be heavily favoured to defeat  Brady, who she beat in three sets in the US Open semifinals.

“For me, I have this mentality that people don’t remember the runners-up,” said 2019 champion Osaka, unbeaten in all three of her Grand Slam finals. “You might, but the winner’s name is the one that’s engraved.

“I think I fight the hardest in the finals. I think that’s where you sort of set yourself apart. It’s something that I think … it’s like the biggest fight.”

Reuters

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