There were people in Melbourne to bury Serena Williams’ illusions

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We expected a queenly fight, it was a fitness walk of one hour sixteen minutes at the end of which Naomi Osaka (23) accompanied her eldest, Serena Williams (39) to the exit. The Japanese, seeded number 3, will play her fourth grand slam final on Saturday (she won the first three), against the winner of the other semi-final between the Czech Karolina Muchova (27th in the world) against the American Jennifer Brady (24th).

Regardless of her opponent, Naomi Osaka will be the favorite to succeed Sofia Kenin, present in the gallery the day after her appendicitis operation. The way she pulled Serena Williams out of her way impressed. More than the score (6-3 6-4), it is the margin separating the two players that strikes the spirits. While Williams seemed to have regained his best level and excellent physical condition, while Osaka did not necessarily even play very well, especially on serve (36% of first balls in the first set, 46% in total, but his second balls are illegible), there was no match.

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An unexpected reprieve

Serena Williams got off to the best start and broke straight away. Led 0-2, Naomi Osaka was one point away from conceding a double break but restored the situation and scored five consecutive games (5-2), to finally pocket the first set in 38 minutes (6-3). She immediately distanced herself and her opponent’s first serve in the second set led 2-0, then 4-2. At 4-3, Naomi Osaka committed three double faults and let Serena Williams come back to her height, much to the delight of the 7,500 spectators allowed in the Rod Laver Arena.

This pre-letter-like semi-final (but it now appears that it was Osaka’s quarter-final against Muguruza which was a pre-letter semi-final) coincided with the (moderate) public return to Melbourne. , after five days of strict containment in the city following the reappearance of a positive case of Covid-19.

Serena is no longer scary

Osaka’s unexpected failure at this point in the game is testament to a development in Serena Williams’ career. Faced with a good half-dozen players in their best form, she can no longer count on her strength alone to win. She can also less and less rely on two feelings that she inspires in her rivals, respect in general and fear at the end of the match, when it comes to concluding.

Raised in tennis with the physical and mental standards imposed by Serena Williams (“When I was a little girl, I watched her play, and just being on the court against her, it is a dream for me”, repeats – again after her victory), Naomi Osaka has never trembled, and has never been afraid to see her opponent return the match. Behind her conceded break, the Japanese won eight consecutive points to conclude (6-3 6-4). Today, it is she who arouses respect and fear. “I don’t want to wish anyone to be nervous, but it’s possible that my opponent in the final is,” she blurted out cryptically.

A heart and tears

Since her last victory here in 2017, Serena Williams has remained stuck to 23 grand slam singles titles. She’s one more than Steffie Graf, perhaps the most beautiful player of the modern era, but one less than Margaret Court Smith, heroine of old times gone wrong, turned bulky and homophobic religious imprecator. During this last big title of 2017, Serena Williams was already pregnant with her daughter Olympia. The childbirth was followed by complications which left him after-effects and handicapped him for more than a year.

Further health problems and growing excitement as she approached the final and the record cost her further disillusionment, at Wimbledon (2018 and 2019 finals) and the US Open (2018 and 2019 finals). ). Leaving the court, Serena Williams turned one last time to the audience and placed her fingers in the shape of a heart. Farewell? “If one day I say my goodbyes, I won’t tell anyone,” she replied at a press conference, where she appeared very disappointed but also moved. To a journalist asking her why she had made so many mistakes during this match, she replied “I don’t know”, then ended the exercise and left the room in tears.