Osaka-Williams, with all of its criss-crossing subplots, started with Osaka looking nervous and turning into Osaka like a supernova in the hot Australian sun. After falling 2-0 straight away, the 23-year-old has conjured up the power with which she has long imitated Williams. At 39, she stepped out by putting her hand to her heart to reach a crowd that was sparsely populated due to the coronavirus pandemic.
When Osaka jumped from 0: 2 to 5: 2 and then to 6: 3, 2: 0, they shattered the basic blows, but also fell into serves, which they sometimes dug out of small thickets. Again, that was more like the Williams of 23 years and 23 Grand Slam titles, and made the enhanced mobility that had led Williams through her first five games irrelevant.
Only once did Osaka’s rise slow down, and even that turn led to something treacherous. The slump came when Osaka made a double fault three times in a game while serving 4-3 in the second set. When the last mistake in the middle got far afield and ended the game, it seemed like some sort of match could take place.
From there, Osaka won the last eight points. She broke Williams’ serve in love by sending a backhand strike for one clean winner in line, ripping a backhand crosscourt for another clean winner, watching a Williams double fault that ended in the net, and some scorching crosscourt fronts struck who lined up a winning backhand.
So she served for the match. It started with an ace in the middle, continued with a service on the T that made Williams start a forehand wide, continued with a service on the corner that made Williams send a forehand extremely long, and hit one fourth arduous serve that resulted in a brief rally and Williams’ netting a final backhand.
Then Osaka greeted Williams on the network with a slight bow and a clear awe and a soft hug. Afterward, she told ESPN, “I was a little kid watching her play and just being on the pitch to play her is a dream.” She would have the chance of a second Australian Open title, which matches her two US Open titles, one of which Williams defeated a year after their daughter was born in 2018 and became part of an ongoing Grand Slam title hunt.