Serena destined to win her 24th Grand Slam title
Osaka has the energy to take down the G.O.A.T
Really? Is this even a debate right now? We're talking about SERENA JAMEKA WILLIAMS, arguably the greatest athlete of all time. This time last year she was recovering from childbirth and life-threatening complications, and now she's playing in her second major final of the summer. Taking home her 24th Grand Slam trophy this weekend just feels like destiny at this point.
And, aside from her inspirational comeback story, have you seen her play throughout this tournament? She's been virtually unstoppable.
The 36-year-old has won five of her six matches in the tournament in straight sets and hasn't needed more than 97 minutes to get the job done. In a tournament that featured early exits for almost all of the top 10, Williams has only showed brief moments of weakness -- and even then she's been able to quickly regain control.
During her semifinal against Anastasija Sevastova -- a woman who had knocked off two top-10 players -- Williams fell into an 0-2 hole in the first set. But then she made a few adjustments and, BAM, won 12 of the next 13 games to win the match in just over an hour. She won 24 out of 28 points when she came to the net -- proving how multi-faceted her game can be.
Don't get me wrong, Naomi Osaka has an incredibly bright future and will likely be taking home several Grand Slam trophies. But I just don't think her reign starts Saturday. Sure, she beat Williams in Miami in March, but that was just two weeks, and four matches, into Williams' return to competition. Both players have acknowledged Williams was nowhere near her best.
While that win might give Osaka a little confidence for the final, it also gives Williams even more fuel to take home the trophy. Not that she really needs any. She's talked at length how much another title would mean to her, and her focus has appeared unwavering.
Even when playing her sister Venus, her most emotionally challenging opponent, she was clinical in her pursuit -- avenging another March loss with a 6-1, 6-2 dominant performance in the third round. Venus said it's the best Serena has ever played against her, and considering they have faced each other 30 times in their professional history, she likely knows better than anyone.
Saturday will mark Williams' 31st Grand Slam final appearance, where she owns a 76 percent win percentage. While lack of experience and nerves haven't been an issue for Osaka on one of the sport's grandest stages yet, it's hard to think she won't be feeling some jitters against her longtime idol with her first title on the line.
With the crowd firmly, and loudly, behind her, and so much history at stake, I just can't see any way Williams doesn't win No. 24 on Saturday.
I'll admit it -- I was one of those people who thought the Naomi Osaka vs. Madison Keys semifinal would be close -- like battling it out in tiebreakers close. On paper, they had a 50-50 chance of victory. Both of them have huge forehands, they sock the ball and leave their opponent stunned. In reality, it could not have been more lopsided. Osaka stepped up to the ball and bludgeoned it -- and with minute accuracy at that -- and Keys, in trying to match her power, looked sloppy, her forehand out of control.
But this happens a lot when two power players take the stage -- one person's power overwhelms the other. What was shocking was the poise with which Osaka did it. Had you watched her play with no context, without knowing who she was, you'd have sworn she'd played at least five Grand Slam semifinals before.
After watching her step up the way she did in the semis, it's hard not to imagine her doing the same again, even if it is against a 23-time Grand Slam champion. Granted, this is Serena Williams we are talking about. She is the G.O.A.T. of all G.O.A.T.s, and she is a master at adjusting her game. In her last two matches against Karolina Pliskova and Anastasija Sevastova, she lost her service games early in the first set but immediately rallied back to break their serves and did not give them a chance to come back.
If Osaka can break Williams early in the first set -- and we know she can -- and continue to keep Williams on the defense with her powerful (and accurate) forehand baseline shots, it's not an impossible notion to think that Williams will be left with no answers. Plus, Osaka's serve, like Williams', is a thing of beauty -- it zips through and sometimes rises high toward the body of her opponent. And we know Williams does not like that.
Imagine this situation: Williams is down a break and is constantly being made to move around the court just to stay in the game. Sure, it will be hard for Osaka to keep up that level of tennis throughout the match. There will definitely be times when Serena will take the lead, but Osaka is patient. She saved 13 break points against Keys in the semifinals. She will hold on patiently and attack when she sees you err. She did that in Miami when she trounced Williams in straight sets (I know, that was Williams' fourth match back and she has since made two straight major finals).
The crowd on Arthur Ashe will definitely be on Williams' side, but Osaka handled the crowd against Keys like a champ. She was just there to hit her shots and play her tennis. The thing I'd be more concerned about: Williams' experience. She's played in a Grand Slam final 30 times before, and if we know anybody who can make things happen out of thin air, it's Serena. But she is also 36. If Osaka can keep her energy up and wear Serena out, there's a chance we'll be talking about this match for a long time to come.