Naomi Osaka advanced to her first Grand Slam final at the US Open after beating Madison Keys for the first time on Thursday night.
The Japanese youngster, just 20 years of age, won 6-2 6-4 to set up a dream final against Serena Williams, Osaka’s idol.
“It means a lot, especially since everyone in my team’s watching. Thank you guys,” Osaka said during her on-court interview.
“It still feels really weird, because I’ve never beaten Madison before so I’m just really glad I was able to get through this match because she’s such a good player.”
Williams authoritatively dismissed Anastasija Sevastova in the first of the women’s semifinals, sealing a place in her 31st Grand Slam final – and ninth at Flushing Meadows alone.
Osaka beat Williams in their only previous meeting in Miami earlier this year.
Osaka, the 20th seed, played a similarly impressive match to Williams but was pushed harder by Keys, who reached last year’s US Open final.
The American moved out to a 1-2, 0-40 lead before Osaka played her way back into the first set, saving four break points to draw level at 2-2, part of a winning run that saw her accumulate seven straight games.
Keys had six break point chances in the second game of the second set but missed them all, slumping to a 6-2 2-0 deficit before settling better into the contest.
In all, she reached break point on 13 occasions – yet did not convert one.
“This is gonna sound really bad but I was just thinking I really wanna play Serena,” Osaka said of her mindset when staring down those break points.
13 break points saved…How did you do that?
— US Open Tennis (@usopen) September 7, 2018
Keys held serve in the ninth game to force Osaka to serve for the match, yet the Japanese star did not blink calmly completed the task.
It was a far cry from her last meeting with Keys in New York, when she led 5-1 in the final set of their third-round match before unravelling.
What was going through her mind when she stepped up to the line to serve for a place in her first major final?
“Don’t double fault,” she laughed.
“That’s news to me (that I managed to stay composed); I thought I was like visibly shaking and stuff,” she continued. “But I just tried to think that I’ve never been in this situation before so I’m really grateful to be here.”
In an interesting twist, Osaka this year has been working with Sascha Bajin, who for eight years served as Williams’ hitting partner.
Gonna be quite a special day for this guy as well. pic.twitter.com/KgcC4JyO29
— José Morgado (@josemorgado) September 7, 2018
Under Bajin’s tutelage, Osaka has noticeably improved her court craft, point construction and consistency during 2018.
And this that proved the difference between her and Keys.
Both can crack the ball with tremendous power on both serves and groundstrokes, and both can play a scorching running forehand. But it was the superior shape on Osaka’s shots and increased margin for error that saw her game break down far less often than the American’s.
Keys finished with 32 unforced errors to Osaka’s 20.
Keys: “There was what I would consider a sloppy game, just missed returns, early in the 1st set. Other than that, every time I had a BP, she came up with some unbelievable shots.
"As far as being disappointed, obviously, but honestly she just played better than me tonight."
— WTA Insider (@WTA_insider) September 7, 2018
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