US Open 2018 Final Preview: Serena Williams vs. Naomi Osaka

The 2018 US Open final will be contested between the number 17 seed, Serena Williams and the number 20 seed, Naomi Osaka. The three Slam finals so far in 2018 have all been tantalising match-ups on paper and this is another cracker. The pair will play at 4pm local time in New York (9pm UK time) . Read on for my preview of Saturday’s title match including semi-final recaps, tournament stats and final thoughts!

Routes through the draw

Both players have had similar routes through the draw, dropping just the one set in the fourth round. Both were in huge hitting clashes – Williams dropped a set to a peaking Kanepi, while Osaka snapped the winning streak of Sabalenka. The latter saw Osaka in tears of happiness at the end of the match.

Williams has taken out three seeds along the way including her first top ten win since returning from the birth of her first child. Through six matches, the pair have spent strikingly similar amounts of time on court – Williams at seven hours and 38 minutes to Osaka’s seven hours and 22 minutes.

R1: S.Williams d. Magda Linette, 6-4 6-0

R2: S. Williams d. Carina Witthoeft, 6-2 6-2

R3: S.Williams d. (16) Venus Williams, 6-1 6-2

R4: S.Williams d. Kaia Kanepi, 6-0 4-6 6-3

QF: S.Williams d. (8) Karolina Pliskova, 6-4 6-3

SF: S.Williams d. (19) Anastasija Sevastova, 6-3 6-0

R1: Osaka d. Laura Siegemund, 6-3 6-2

R2: Osaka d. Julia Glushko, 6-2 6-0

R3: Osaka d. Aliksandra Sasnovich, 6-0 6-0

R4: Osaka d. (26) Aryna Sabalenka, 6-3 2-6 6-4

QF: Osaka d. Lesia Tsurenko, 6-1 6-1

SF: Osaka d. (14) Madison Keys, 6-2 6-4

Semi-final matches

S.Williams d. Sevastova, 6-3 6-0

Serena Williams powered into her ninth US Open final, winning 12 of the last 13 games to beat Anastasija Sevastova, 6-3 6-0. A slow starting Williams went for the lines early on and missed as Sevastova dominated with slices and spins to go up a quick 2-0. The early optimism soon faded for Sevastova. The Latvian player dominated at the net and dazzled with drop shots in her quarter-final victory over Stephens. On this occasion, it didn’t work for Sevastova as she threw in a tame drop shot to lose serve at 2-1. Williams had a clear strategy to charge the net. The strategy was very successful as she as shoe won 24 of 28 points at the net.

After getting back on level terms, Williams went from strength-to-strength as she continued to use her serve to charge the net and keep Sevastova behind the baseline who was unable to inflict any damage with her variety. Williams tore through the second set for the loss of just 12 points with Sevastova offering up little to no resistance. Still a fantastic tournament for Sevastova who scored back-to-back top ten wins to reach the semi-finals.

Osaka d. Keys, 6-2 6-4

In the second of the semi-finals, Naomi Osaka all 13 break points faced (!) to record a first ever win over Madison Keys, 6-2 6-4. Osaka was asked how she managed to save the break points in her post-match interview and she said it was because she wanted to play Serena! Osaka saved six break points in the first set, winning the last five games against an increasingly error-strewn, Keys. The Amercian seemed to panic and kept pulling the trigger too early in the rallies.

Keys improved in the second set but still couldn’t take advantage of her break point opportunities. While it felt like she could have done a bit better on the break points in the first set, Osaka was a demon on the key points in the second set. Osaka saved six break points in a marathon eight deuce game at *1-0. Osaka hit back-to-back aces down the tee down on consecutive points. Keys actually started laughing!

The commentators on Amazon Prime were quite critical of Keys in the first set for lacking patience and not reining it in. To her credit, she really knuckled down in the second set and played at a decent level. Just simply, she couldn’t take a break point and that could have swung this match. Osaka played the big points fabulously and most impressive of all, managed to find her first serve when serving for a place in her first Slam final.

Tournament statistics

The most interesting difference in the statistics is on the winners to unforced errors differential. Williams is at +73 and has been positive every match, while Osaka is at -11 for the tournament! Williams has hit more than double the amount of winners compared to Osaka (200 to 97). The serving stats are relatively similar with Williams landing slightly more first serves in (61 to 59%) and winning a higher percentage of points behind the first serve (78 to 76%). Osaka has won a higher percentage of points behind her second serve, 58 to 51%. Williams’s net charges against Sevastova were noteworthy. In fact, she came forward more times in that match than Osaka has done during the entire tournament!

Head-to-head record

In their only previous match, Osaka beat S.Williams, 6-3 6-2 in the first round of Miami. Osaka was coming off the back of her first title win in Indian Wells and produced a sensational display.

Final thoughts

I’m fascinated by this final. The dynamic of Osaka playing her idol in her first Slam final makes this extra special. Perhaps it was a tad surprising that Osaka was able to play such a fine match when they played in Miami. We have seen many occasions where players going up against idols have froze and often shown too much respect. There was almost a sense that Osaka wanted to impress Williams and know who she was!

Aside from the serve, Osaka’s statistics don’t tell the whole story. Osaka has come such a long way in finding a way to harness her raw power. This has been the case to a degree in 2018 but has really come through in her last three matches. Osaka has been notably patient, held her ground against fellow power players and played with great depth in defence. The coaching partnership with Sascha Bajin has been magic so far.

Williams has had another brilliant run, making back-to-back Slam finals. All the superlatives in the world don’t do justice for what Williams has achieved almost exactly one year after she gave birth to her first child where she had serious complications. It almost feels that her story is underrated because she has set the bar so incredibly high in her career. The expectations are always huge, not least the expectations she seems to have for herself.

Williams clearly brings a wealth of experience into this final. Osaka brings an unknown quantity, which makes her so dangerous. The Japanese player is such a unique character and has proven already in short career to be a big match player. Examples include the win over Williams in Miami and even in her semi-final against Keys, playing against someone she had never beaten before and in her first Slam semi-final at night on the biggest tennis stadium in the world.

It will be intriguing to see how Williams comes out from the start after the Wimbledon final. It seemed that nerves played a part at SW19 as Kerber got her tactics absolutely spot on to win in straight sets. The loss to Osaka in Miami felt like a turning point for Williams and a realisation that to get back to the top of her game, she needed to put in hours and hours of work on the practice courts. Williams is one of the best, if not the best, at reacting and learning from her losses. There’s no doubt in my mind that Williams will be super motivated to put that loss in Miami well in the rear view mirror.

Whichever way this goes, the resulting storyline is going to be memorable – #24 for Serena or a first Slam title for Naomi. The last seven matches at the 2018 US Open have all been decided in straight sets so i’m really, really, REALLY hoping for a competitive match. One thing’s for sure, the trophy ceremony is going to be awesome.

Sticking with my general motto for the WTA… it’s another tough one to call but I am going for Serena.

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13 thoughts on “US Open 2018 Final Preview: Serena Williams vs. Naomi Osaka

  1. I was in tears of laughter after listening to Naomi’s on court interview after her semi final win. She can be so funny. Some excellent insight from James in this preview. The thing that has surprised me the most about Naomi during this event is her calmness and composure on court and how well she has dealt with the pressure points even though she states that she has been feeling the opposite during the matches….all I can say is that she has been hiding her tenseness very well !

    I did not expect her to win in 2 sets against Keys and she has played very well so far in this Grand Slam. She may have a chance if she can get off to a good start but Serena is presently playing better tennis than at any other stage since she returned from giving birth in my opinion. I thought that she was awesome at times during the 2nd set against Sevastova. Serena loves it here and will have the support of the majority of the spectators.

    Naomi has become one of my favs and I will be cheering loudly for her to win but I think that the experience and power of Serena will be too much for Naomi on this occasion and Serena should win.

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  2. Williams vs Osaka
    Both players are near equal on skill level at this time. Osaka beating Sabalenka was big. Williams appears to be in much better physical shape than when they last met in Miami, although it is somewhat difficult to judge with that ballerina tutu outfit she is wearing. IMO the player that can control her emotions will win, and that is a toss up.

    USO Girls Tournament — The event that’s dominating the tennis news world
    Lopatetskaya(15) def Gauff(14)
    The long legged qualifier Lopa beat the number 1 seed Gauff. Gauff has been anointed by the US news media as the next big thing, and that may be true in the long run. Gauff won the FO girls event.
    Lopa next plays Xiy Wang who beat Gauff in Wimbledon. Her junior rankings were too low to enter the FO or Wimb.
    Wimbledon girls champ Swiatek is into the semi-finals at the 60K ITF Montreux Swis., after winning the 60K ITF event in Budapest last week.

    Simona Halep note
    Boris Becker saw Simona at a NYC steakhouse relatively late at night before her early 1st round match.
    Question: Shouldn’t a pro tennis player with a possible 2 hour plus match the next morning be eating like a long distance runner and carbo-loading instead of eating a steak?

    Another great write-up by The Moo.

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    • Steakhouses don’t only serve steak…

      It sounds like Gauff played a nervy match, but from what I’ve seen she already has the weapons to do well on the adult tour. Her serve is shaping to be a real weapon and at 14 she already has SO much power and timing. Plus she’s 5″9 already chances are that she’ll end up close to 6 foot.

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  3. This may come across as a bit ungenerous, and I’m in no way claiming I’m right (not that there’s really any right or wrong about this). In many ways it’s a self-interested point of view. For me, Serena is the best ever tennis player, male or female. But I wish she’d retire. Every time she’s not in a competition, or in a final, I enjoy it more, as it usually leaves the competition far more open for a pretty wide range of others to win. I like watching their skill and pleasure at winning, especially if it’s a first WTA title, or a first Slam title. That’s not the case when watching Serena win, despite her amazing abilities. Each time it’s Serena winning, or even just in a final, I find it quite tedious and usually predictable. I also find it hard to understand why she actually carries on playing. It seems a bit odd. Hasn’t she achieved enough? But maybe that’s part of being a superlative sports person: exceeding people’s expectations.

    I could repeat most of the paragraph above replacing Serena with the name Roger Federer.

    Both, please, hang up your tennis shoes for good!

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    • Thanks for exptessing my desires, they are old enough for the sports now and a bit too much dominating personalities, sports’s much more lovely without them

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    • Serena loves to play, so why shouldn’t she? She’s good for women’s tennis, many people watch her play who wouldn’t ordinarily watch tennis. She’s probably the only *real* draw in women’s tennis, money wise. When she plays, ticket sales are guaranteed to be good, and you almost never see her playing to a half empty stadium, unlike Kerber, Halep, Kvitova, Muguruza etc.

      I think if she wins 25 Slams she will retire though. The aim for her for the last few years is to go down as the GOAT. Same for Federer, who was spurred on by Rafa and Novak challenging his # of Slams won.

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      • “Serena loves to play, so why shouldn’t she?” Absolutely.

        Unfortunately you may be right in the rest you write. But I know a number of people who don’t watch, precisely because she is still playing.

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    • Naomi Osaka doesn’t want Serena to retire, she’s part of her motivation to make the final. She’s yearning to play her in the final. Why? For her, it’s part of the process, a validation of how far she’s come. Playing her, beating, her a measure of the hard work she’s been putting in. She is 20 years old, I guess it’s a matter of perspective.

      These older players are professionals too. The sport of tennis is bigger than any one player. I’m sure they are aware of the rules, as long as they abide by them and remain competitive, the ITF, ATP or the WTA will welcome them. Likewise, they also have goals and will likely know when to step back. Think of the recent controversy with Nick kyrgios and what seemed to be the umpire trying to ‘motivate’ the ‘young’ talented athlete to play. Could it also be an ‘issue’, if any at all, from both ends ??

      You are right, some players are not merely talented but supremely mentally driven as well. This puts them a touch above, and so it is, even in everyday life sometimes.

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    • You don’t like to watch don’t mean other people won’t. It is very pathetic to ask people to retire. In this case, one should retire from work when someone thinks they are too old. What a joke.

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      • Frank, didn’t you read what I wrote? Or perhaps you simply have a problem with a person stating their opinion. I stated clearly my view was self-interested and that I wasn’t necessarily right.

        In view of that, you may wish to consider whether or not it’s your reply to me which is “pathetic” and “a joke” and not my original comment. Lighten up.

        Here’s my view again, Frank: I’m bored stiff of the best ever tennis player and wish she’d retire. Everyone I know agrees. I sincerely hope she will retire as soon as possible.

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  4. It’s almost a tale as old time, 🙂 .not the disney one though. Wise mantis against the young grasshopper, or is it Sensei against the Kohai, maybe Onee-san/sama versus Naomi-chan. 😉 Could it be the young padawan looking to cut the Jedi master from the force on the biggest stage !?.
    Let’s hope they both play great tennis, worthy of the occasion.

    Like

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