Japanese-born Naomi Osaka, who spent part of her childhood in New York and dreamed of competing at the U.S. Open, will play for the title here.
Osaka, 20, advanced to the first Grand Slam final of her ascending career by holding off 2017 U.S. Open runner-up Madison Keys, 6-2, 6-4, in a poised performance Thursday night at Arthur Ashe Stadium. That set up a matchup on Saturday against 23-time Grand Slam champion Serena Williams, who dismissed Anastasija Sevastova of Latvia, 6-3, 6-0, in the first semifinal. Osaka is the first Japanese woman to reach the final of a Grand Slam event.
Both semifinals were played under a closed roof at Arthur Ashe Stadium because, tournament organizers said, thunderstorms and high winds were in the forecast. Closing the roof made for a much less humid climate, but the crowd noise seemed louder because the sound was contained under the roof.
Osaka gained a considerable amount of attention when she won the title at Indian Wells in March. The following week, she defeated Williams at a tournament in Miami, the only time they have faced each other. However, that was only the second tournament in Williams’ return from maternity leave. “Hopefully I won’t play like that again,” Williams said of Osaka’s 6-3, 6-2 victory in their match at Miami. “I can only go up.”
Seeded 20th here, Osaka has shown increasing maturity and has lost only one set. She was 0-3 in her previous matchups against Keys but that had no influence on Thursday. She held off four break points in the fourth game of the first set, which seemed to deflate Keys more than it should have. Osaka broke her serve for a 3-2 lead and broke again for a 5-2 lead. Osaka won the set when Keys netted a forehand. Osaka gained another break in the first game of the second set and didn’t relent. Keys was 0 for 13 in converting break points.
Asked about her success in fending off those break points, Osaka smiled sheepishly. “This is going to sound really bad but I was just thinking I really want to play Serena,” she told on-court interviewer Tom Rinaldi.
When he asked why, she looked at him incredulously “Why? She’s Serena. What do you mean?”