Some sports stories real and fictional involve an athlete getting into a sport due to seeing a star of that game playing, and eventually they get to meet that sporting idol for a match in a major competition and then beat them. That just happened in the 2021 Australian Open. American tennis superstar Serena Williams was working on winning her 24th major singles title at Melbourne, matching the record of pre-Open era Aussie legend Margaret Court. Instead she ran into a major semifinals roadblock this past Thursday, in Japan representative Naomi Osaka. Sweeping two sets, Osaka stopped Williams’ milestone achievement.
According to CNN, Naomi Osakadefeated Serena Williams 6-3, 6-4 at the Women’s Singles semifinals for the Australian Open. The feat was witnessed by a sizeable crowd that has finally been able to view the match live at Rod Laver Arena in Melbourne after a mini-COVID outbreak in the city caused Melbourne officials to lock down for five days. It was a storybook encounter, as Osaka had seen the Williams play as a very young child in 1999. At age 23 presently the Japanese-Haitian player felt like she was in a dream facing her idol, especially after she beat her.
In the post-match conference Osaka says, “I don’t know if there’s any little kids out here today, but I was a little kid watching her play…Just to be on the court playing against her for me is a dream.” In a way her life was a mirror to Williams. She and her sister Mari started learning tennis at a very young age, with their Haitian father being their first coach, just as Serena and older sister Venus started at the sport thanks to their own dad. The result was an intense generational match that ended heartwarmingly when the defeated Williams embraced Osaka on the court.
During the conference there was speculation that Serena Williams may be considering a farewell to pro tennis due to her gesture towards Naomi Osaka. It should be noted that Serena last won a major in 2017, also at the Australian Open, a feat achieved while eight weeks pregnant. Naomi on the other hand was Australian Open women’s singles champion in 2019, and in the four matches she had faced Williams she prevailed 3-1. Serena demurred on the possibility that she is retiring, explaining she would never tell anyone farewell if she was actually planning to.
Osaka now rules undefeated in her last 20 consecutive professional matches, with her last loss being in February 2020. She faces American Jennifer Brady in the upcoming Women’s Singles finals.
Image from Sports Illustrated