Naomi Osaka Beats Serena Williams, Advances to 2021 Australian Open Final

Scott Polacek@@ScottPolacekFeatured ColumnistFebruary 18, 2021

Japan's Naomi Osaka hits a forehand return to United States' Serena Williams during their semifinal match at the Australian Open tennis championship in Melbourne, Australia, Thursday, Feb. 18, 2021.(AP Photo/Andy Brownbill)
Andy Brownbill/Associated Press

Naomi Osaka is one win away from a fourth career Grand Slam title. 

No. 3 Osaka defeated No. 10 Serena Williams in straight sets, 6-3, 6-4, in the 2021 Australian Open semifinals on Wednesday at Rod Laver Arena. That means Williams remains one Grand Slam championship shy of Margaret Court's record of 24.

This was the high-profile matchup the entire tennis world wanted when the women's single draw was released, and it marked the fourth chapter in their head-to-head history.

Osaka won two of the first three, including the 2018 U.S. Open final. However, Williams won their most recent matchup in 2019 in Toronto and is dominant at the Australian Open with seven titles on her resume.

#AusOpen @AustralianOpen

2⃣6⃣ Grand Slam singles titles & counting between these two. 🪙 Coin toss goals 🤩 #AusOpen | #AO2021 https://t.co/0NhhruR6jy

#AusOpen @AustralianOpen

Simply sensational ✨ @naomiosaka sweeps past Serena Williams 6-3 6-4 & is our first #AO2021 women's singles finalist! #AusOpen https://t.co/KsMUARKI3L

That seemed to set the stage for a Serena victory, although Osaka is undoubtedly one of the best in the sport already as a three-time Grand Slam champion who won the 2019 Australian Open.

Osaka has also been unbeatable of late when she is within striking distance of a Grand Slam, which was a major storyline coming into Wednesday's match. As Ben Rothenberg of the New York Times highlighted, Williams has won two titles in her last 11 trips to a major semifinal. By contrast, Osaka won the title in each of the previous three times she reached a Grand Slam quarterfinal.

The 23-year-old entered this match a perfect 10-0 in the final three rounds of a Grand Slam event. 

Despite the undefeated mark in such matches, Osaka was immediately under pressure when Williams broke the first game and had a break point to go up 3-0 in the opening set. However, the two-time U.S. Open winner quickly settled in and won five straight games as she battled back and seized control in the early going.

That Osaka won the set was notable because she was far from her best with the serve and hit 36 percent of her first serves inbounds. She made up for it with opportunistic defense and converted both of her break points.

SportsCenter @SportsCenter

Osaka is locked in! She takes the first set 6-3 #AusOpen https://t.co/3LOPErds6B

Bleacher Report @BleacherReport

Naomi Osaka takes the first set against Serena Williams after trailing 0-2 🔥 #AusOpen https://t.co/tCOTDQYFlA

Dan Wolken @DanWolken

Osaka wins the first set, 6-3, despite serving quite poorly by her standards. But Naomi's game was just bigger off the ground.

Her momentum carried right over into the second set.

Osaka earned a break in the first game with a beautiful backhand and then impressed with two straight aces to win her first service game to go up 2-0. Like she so often does, though, Williams played off the crowd's energy and came roaring back to tie the set 4-4 with a break that was aided by three double-faults from Osaka.

To the 23-year-old's credit, she bounced back with a critical break of her own to regain control of the match and finished it with the serve.

ESPN @espn

OSAKA'S SERVE 😳🔥 https://t.co/olewtqBj7Y

While Serena made some uncharacteristic misses, Osaka's power helped her dictate the pace, control rallies and smash winners when presented with opportunities to do so. It was a clinical performance by one of the game's premier stars.

With this showdown in the rearview mirror, Osaka is one victory away from the title. She will face the winner of the match between No. 22 Jennifer Brady and No. 25 Karolina Muchova in the final.