Naomi Osaka may have just earned her second career Grand Slam victory over Serena Williams, but she’s still not over the fact that she gets to see a living legend in person.
The 23-year-old has long looked up to Williams, a 23-time Grand Slam champion who has been playing the sport professionally longer than Osaka has been alive. And even though Osaka has blossomed into a tennis superstar in her own right, Williams’ star power continues to have a hold over the still-young Japanese international.
After she took Williams down in straight sets during Thursday’s Australian Open semifinal, the three-time Grand Slam champion used a portion of her post-match press conference to discuss the significance of playing across the net from her childhood idol.
“It’s always a surreal moment, even just to see her in real life, like close up,” Osaka said of Williams. “I rarely see her, to be honest. I think our practice times are different.”
Just after the match, Osaka reminisced about the days when she was a little kid watching Williams from the stands. Now, more than a decade later, “just to be on the court playing against her, for me is a dream,” she told the crowd at Rod Laver Arena.
It’s no wonder, then, that Osaka was very nervous at the start of the match. Her first service game was uncharacteristically shaky, allowing Williams to go up an early break in the first set.
“I was definitely really nervous,” Osaka said. “It’s very intimidating to serve for the first game and see her on the other side of the net.”
“I’ve grown up watching what she does to people’s serves when they’re soft,” she added. “I was thinking about what could happen if I didn’t serve perfectly.”
At 39 years old, Williams is undoubtedly in the twilight of her storied career. After Williams delivered a big wave to the crowd following her loss to Osaka and subsequently teared up over retirement talk in her post-match press conference, rumors swirled that the tennis icon may have played her final match in Melbourne.
And even though Osaka still feels intimidated playing Williams head-to-head, she cherishes those opportunities and would be disappointed to watch her idol walk away from the game.
“It’s kinda sad when you say it like that because, for me, I want her to play forever,” Osaka said. “That’s the little kid in me.”
“Every time I play her, I feel like it’s something I’ll definitely remember a lot,” she added.
Following her victory over Williams, Osaka will face American Jen Brady in the Australian Open final. Should Osaka win, the feat will constitute her second career Australian Open title, and fourth championship in the last six Grand Slams played on hard courts.
Source: Meredith Cash