Naomi Osaka and Father Time Collaborate On Serena’s Swan Song

Serena Jameka Williams is the unquestioned “GOAT” of tennis. She’s won 23 Grand Slam titles which is the most in the Open era, only Margaret Court has more overall (24). 

Williams has been gunning for that elusive 24th GS title for 4 years now. The last time Serena won a Grand Slam was in 2017 when she won the Australian Open while not knowing she was eight weeks pregnant with daughter Olympia.

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Since that historic victory, she’s come close several times, advancing to four Grand Slam finals and losing them all.

She was back at it again on Wednesday in the 2021 Australian Open semifinals, competing against one of tennis’  young guns, 23-year-old Naomi Osaka, who has quickly risen through the ranks, defeated Williams on several huge stages and is making more money than any other woman athlete. 

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Her career has been nothing short of magnificent hailing from Saginaw, Michigan by way of Compton, CA. Her father Richard who trained and taught her and sister Venus the sport, always said both would be champions, but bragged that Serena was the better of the two. 

Dad didn’t lie when he made that statement, although both have enjoyed Hall Of Fame careers and won a ton of Grand Slams as well as many other titles on the circuit. They’ve also been very influential in diversifying tennis culture, inspiring generations of Black tennis players, making the game more popular globally, and taking stands against social injustice and gender inequality. 

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Serena has been downright dominant during her reign as the best player in the world. 

She’s won 39 combined Grand Slam titles (23 Singles), (14 Women’s Doubles) and (2 Mixed Doubles), placing her tied for third on the all-time list and second in the Open era. 

She is the most recent female player to hold all four Grand Slam singles titles simultaneously (2002-03 and 2014-05), and only the third player to achieve this twice after Rod Laver and Steffi Graf. 

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She is also the most recent player to have won a Grand Slam title on each surface (clay, hard, and grass) in one calendar year (2015).  She and big sister Venus also are the most recent to hold all four Grand Slam women’s doubles titles simultaneously (2009-10).

This run began at the 1999 US Open and has been a steady diet of utter domination for the better part of 21-years. 

But as with everything in sports, “Father Time” is still undefeated. No, I’m not saying she isn’t still great and capable of winning titles, it’s just she’s now 39 and the talent pool of young players is much better than it’s been in recent years.

Serena has dominated her opponents on skill of course, but it’s been a level of physicality and intimidation that’s accompanied that talent and skill, which had most opponents beaten before they even stepped on the court. She has been ranked #1 an astounding 319 weeks of her illustrious career.

Only the great Steffi Graf and legendary Martina Navratilova we’re ranked No. 1 longer. She was the top-ranked player for 186 consecutive weeks at one point, tying the record held by Graf.

Enter Naomi Osaka, the upstart, quiet and Uber talented native of Japan. The 23-year old three-time Grand Slam winner is the actual “kryptonite” to what Serena has done for so long which is out-physical and mentally beat her opponent. 

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If you were told to go into a lab and create a player who could give Serena all types of problems, Osaka would be just that. She’s tall, athletic, strong and has the skill set to really wreak havoc on Serena’s aging game, as evidenced by their two meetings in Grand Slams.

The first happened in the 2018 US Open Final, which was marred by controversy between Serena and the chair umpire on that fateful day at Flushing Meadows in NY on the court of Arthur Ashe Stadium. 

The umpire played a role in the match that day but let’s not act as if Osaka wasn’t thoroughly outplaying her idol in front of a raucous sellout crowd who hoped that Serena would get that elusive 24th Grand Slam. 

Osaka beat her (6-2,  6-4) in straight sets to capture her first Grand Slam title.

Fast forward to 2021 and the Australian Open semifinals and Osaka thoroughly outplayed Serena again to win by the same result (6-2, 6-4). 

And when I go back and look at both matches, if not for unforced errors by Osaka, the results easily could’ve been worse. Her game is tailor-made to match Serena’s and it also helps that she’s 16 years younger (39-23) with a lot less wear and tear on her body. 

Osaka is 11-0 in Grad Slam quarterfinals, semis and finals winning the tournament all three times she’s reached that point in any major. 

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She’s now one win from her second Australian Open title (also won in 2019) and she’s obliterated Serena in both matchups in Grand Slams. 

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Serena hasn’t even won a set in either matchup and how often has she faced an opponent multiple times and actually looked inferior? I don’t recall that ever happening in her career. I’m not saying she can’t beat Osaka, she’s beaten her twice in other tourneys. 

She may even get another shot on the clay of Roland-Garros at the French Open or the grass at Wimbledon. But thus far on hard courts at the US Open and Aussie Open it’s been Osaka in a cakewalk.

Serena was very emotional and broke down in her press conference when asked about her future. As a fan, I hope she doesn’t retire but if this year is her final act she’s been the best we’ve ever seen swing the racket while carrying the sport for women with class and dignity.

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