Excitement generated by the showdown between Naomi Osaka and Serena Williams in the semifinals of the Australian Open could not be overstated. The 23-year-old Osaka grew up idolizing Williams, 39, who was trying to reach her ninth Australian final in a bid to win a record-tying 24th Grand Slam. And Osaka, the third seed, was looking to beat Williams a third time in four head-to-head matchups with her 11th-ranked opponent.
As showdowns go, the matchup pitted two of the most prominent female athletes on the planet against one another. And such was the tension for true tennis fans going in that even American player Sofia Kenin put her recovery from having her appendix removed on hold to take a seat.
Number 1 vs. Number 2
In 2020, Naomi Osaka earned $37.4 million, making her the highest-paid female athlete.
Serena Williams, who earned $36 million, was the second-highest. pic.twitter.com/8SsSc5ruUk
— Front Office Sports (@FOS) February 18, 2021
Where do you go when you’re recovering from an appendectomy?
Sofia Kenin goes to watch Naomi Osaka and Serena Williams.
(Via @espn) | #AusOpen pic.twitter.com/e4T0CrgcGx
— The Tennis Podcast (@TennisPodcast) February 18, 2021
But Osaka promptly showed why she’s the rising star in the sport today.
GSM: Osaka d. Williams 6-3, 6-4. Electric start for Serena doused by a champion realizing at this stage in time she’s a better player. Down 2-0, wins 6 of next 7. 2nd set: Osaka serving 6-3, 4-3. Doubles 3x, gets broken for 4-4. Wins the next 8 points and good night in 75 mins.
— Full Dissident (@hbryant42) February 18, 2021
Osaka is honoring her idol by dominating the tour like Serena used to. Doesn’t make the loss any easier to take. But game respects game.
— Ramona Shelburne (@ramonashelburne) February 18, 2021
With her bid to make history thwarted this time around, Williams was quick to acknowledge fans ready to respect the legends she has forged on the courts Down Under:
Serena waves to the fans as she leaves Rod Laver Arena after her semifinal round exit 🙏 #AusOpen pic.twitter.com/S9vZYfOcmI
— ESPN (@espn) February 18, 2021
After the match, Osaka was happy to share an amusing anecdote about what might have be part of her new prematch preparation routine:
Naomi Osaka talks about stopping Serena’s serve and switching from Japanese food to Greek prior to her match with Serena Williams.
In the wake of Osaka’s victory, accolades poured in from other athletes, observers and tennis fans.
I *really* want Serena to get that 24th Grand Slam, but it might not happen. And that’s okay. She’s still the GOAT. #AusOpen pic.twitter.com/zJQgG061W7
— Britni Danielle (@BritniDWrites) February 18, 2021
I’ll forever be a Serena fan, but my heart is so happy watching two Black queens dominate the sport. Osaka let’s get this DUB!!
— Simone Manuel (@swimone) February 18, 2021
i love Serena so much but Naomi IS THAT GIRL 😭😭😭
— Lexie Brown (@lexiekiah_4) February 18, 2021
Great win for Naomi Osaka. Seeing her rise in dominance is really a treat, but it’s hard not to feel a heavy sense of disappointment when Serena loses.
— Jemele Hill (@jemelehill) February 18, 2021
I feel terrible for Serena. But Naomi…was…incredible.
— Alex Gibney (@alexgibneyfilm) February 18, 2021
Osaka is so impressive in so many ways. And every time she plays Serena, it is so moving. The way they root for one another even as they compete so hard. Such a special thing to witness.
Serena is the all time greatest.
Osaka is the next.
An honor to watch that.
— Brian Koppelman (@briankoppelman) February 18, 2021
Osaka signed off already looking ahead to what’s next:
See you in the finals #ausopen pic.twitter.com/RXJGVe2qEo
— NaomiOsaka大坂なおみ (@naomiosaka) February 18, 2021