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
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.
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!
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.
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.