Naomi Osaka to face Serena Williams in Australian Open semifinals

3 weeks ago
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Naomi Osaka has never lost a Grand Slam after making the quarterfinals, and if all goes to plan at the Australian Open, she will be savoring a fourth major triumph before her 24th birthday.

The Japanese third seed reached the semifinals with a clinical 6-2, 6-2 win over Hsieh Su-wei on Tuesday, two years after suffering a big scare in an emotional rollercoaster of a match against the Taiwanese maverick at the 2019 tournament.

Osaka’s opponent in the semifinal will be Serena Williams, who also won on Tuesday.

On a warm and muggy day at Rod Laver Arena, Osaka attacked Hsieh’s weak serve with gusto, and the Taiwanese giant-killer quickly wilted under the pressure of her Grand Slam quarterfinal debut.

Hsieh, 35, bowed out after a stellar tournament, having become the oldest women’s player to debut in a Grand Slam quarterfinal in the professional era.

The improbable angles conjured by her double-handed, double-sided game had Osaka in some trouble early, but Hsieh was unable to convert any of the three break points she raised in the opening games of the first set.

Osaka quashed the first of them in the opening game with an ace down the ‘T’ before smashing Hsieh’s defenses with a blazing backhand down the line to break to 3-1.

After holding on grimly through a 14-point game to hold serve, Osaka raised the pressure when Hsieh served to stay in the set at 5-2 and sealed it when the Taiwanese slapped a limp backhand wide.

Hsieh was soon in a tailspin, pounding a backhand well over the line to be broken to 2-0 as an emboldened Osaka raced to the finish.

While Osaka has suffered some major wobbles in the past, there was no hint of frustration from her despite Hsieh saving two match points. She bided her time to claim the win on the third when an overwhelmed Hsieh floated a sliced backhand long.

“I would say it makes me a bit more calm, realizing that even when my back was against the wall, I still had chances,” said Osaka, who saved two match points in a cliffhanger against Garbine Muguruza in her previous match.

“Even today when I had two match points and she saved them… I was a bit more calm.”

Osaka said her dominance on Tuesday showed how much better she had become at sticking to a plan rather than relying on her instincts.

“I would say for me today it was really important to have a plan just because she’s an opponent that I’m not really sure what’s going to happen,” Osaka said of the mercurial Hsieh, who beat her in Miami in 2019.

“So just having something to structure myself and not get carried away with what she’s going to do was definitely really important.

“I feel like being able to receive information is something that I’ve been learning, and it’s something that I feel my experience over these past couple years has helped me.

“Because, I think a couple years ago I probably wouldn’t be able to understand what I was supposed to do that well here.

“But definitely I feel like I’m getting better at being able to stick to a plan. I know my attention isn’t that great all the time, but yeah.”

Osaka could face world No. 1 and home hero Ash Barty in a blockbuster decider if the Australian also survives.

Crowds are expected to return to the tournament on Thursday after a five-day lockdown due to a COVID-19 outbreak, and Osaka said she hoped Barty could have fans present for her bid to end Australia’s 43-year wait for a home champion.

“Even for me, I’ve played the finals before with no crowd,” said Osaka, who won her second U.S. Open title last year without fans at Flushing Meadows due to biosecurity protocols.

“It’s definitely memorable. But I’m sure for her, if she reaches the finals and there’s no crowd, it would be memorable but kind of in a sad way.

“I’m sure she would want a crowd. For me, I would want a crowd, too, even if they don’t cheer for me. That’s just the way life is. It’s just more fun.”

Williams came through a huge test of her Australian Open title credentials to reach the last four at Melbourne Park for the ninth time with a 6-3, 6-3 victory over Simona Halep.

The 39-year-old went toe-to-toe with the Romanian second seed over 80 minutes at Rod Laver Arena before she was finally able to move to within two victories of a record-matching 24th Grand Slam title.

Williams hit some ferocious forehands and moved around the court with a freedom that she has not enjoyed for a good while.

“I think this was the best match I have played at this tournament, for sure,” Williams said after celebrating her win.

“I knew it had to be going up against the number two in the world. I had to be better and I was, so I’m excited.”

Williams was always in front in the first set but needed to dig deep to wrestle back the momentum after Halep took a 3-1 lead in the second.

The match turned decisively when Williams broke for 4-3 after a 13-shot rally where she showed incredible athleticism to get to a couple of shots that would have defied most players.

Seven minutes later, she wrapped up the contest with a huge forehand, her 24th winner.

“My feeling after this match is that I was not that far (away) but she was stronger in the important moments,” said Halep.

“I’m not that disappointed with myself.”

Williams has not landed one of the game’s major prizes since her seventh title at Melbourne Park in 2017, with Halep’s victory in the 2019 Wimbledon final denying her one opportunity to match Margaret Court’s record.

After gaining a measure of revenge for that defeat, Williams has the chance to avenge another when she plays Osaka, who won the 2018 U.S. Open final between the two.

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The Japan Times

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