Naomi Osaka eased into her first Grand Slam final, and her sterling form shows no sign of deserting her. The 2018 US Open campaign that now places her one match away from the title has been marked by lopsided victories. In her semifinal against Madison Keys, however, the battle was belied by the score. Osaka won 6-2 6-4, but not without a fight.
Naomi Osaka Makes Grand Slam Final Debut
Osaka and Keys had met twice before, with the American winning both encounters. This time, Keys could not come up with an answer to the self-assured Osaka’s game. Keys played better and better as the match went on and managed to carve out chances on Osaka’s serve, but Osaka came up with gutsy plays when she needed them the most.
Sometimes the story of a match can be told in one game. In this semifinal, it was Osaka’s first service game of the second set. After looking calm and in control during the first set and breaking Keys at the start of the second, Osaka found herself fighting off multiple break points. She knew Keys had been playing nervy tennis and that, if the American broke back to level the set, she could quickly run away with not just the set, but the match.
At this point in the match, though the score line was 6-2 1-0 with Osaka serving, the two women had not created the same number of break points. The difference was that Key’s had converted 0 of 7 and Osaka 3 of 4. Over and over the game was dragged to deuce. Keys created more opportunities to break, but each time Osaka managed to hold. The telling moment came on one of those break points. Osaka missed her first serve. She had already saved multiple break points in the now nearly ten-minute-long game alone. However, Osaka pummeled a 92mph second serve down the tee. It skidded off the line and, in the replay, as Keys watched it sail by her she broke into an involuntary smile of resignation and recognition.
Osaka eventually held, and her single break of serve proved enough to win her the second set, and the match. Keys played better and better as time went on, but whenever she threatened to even the score, Osaka imposed herself with strong serves and intelligent groundstrokes. Awaiting her in Sunday’s final is her childhood idol, Serena Williams.
Osaka has spoken reverently about the US Open. Though she is from Japan she spent much of her early life in the United States so the US Open was the first tennis tournament she remembers watching. Win or lose on Saturday, Osaka already has an accomplishment to her name: she is the first Japanese woman to reach the final of a Grand Slam. She has also made her presence known as an exciting new contender for the most prestigious titles in tennis.
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