Once again, Serena Williams came within reach of a record-tying 24th Grand Slam singles title, playing well enough Thursday to get to the closing days of a major tournament. And once again, Williams couldn’t quite get it done, as she was defeated 6-3, 6-4 by Naomi Osaka in the Australian Open semifinals.
Osaka, who also beat Williams in the chaotic 2018 US Open final, reached her fourth major title match and stretched her winning streak to 20 matches by claiming the last eight points.
“I don’t know if there’s any little kids out here today, but I was a little kid watching her play,” Osaka, 23, said about Williams, 39, “and just to be on the court playing against her, for me, is a dream.”
Osaka will face 22nd-seeded American Jennifer Brady in the final. Brady beat No. 25 Karolina Muchova 6-4, 3-6, 6-4.
The No. 3-seeded Osaka’s Grand Slam collection also includes last year’s US Open and the 2019 Australian Open, and she is without a doubt the most dangerous hard-court player in the women’s game today.
That used to be Williams, of course. But she was off target too much in this contest, finishing with twice as many unforced errors (24) as winners (12).
“I could have won. I could have been up 5-love,” said Williams, who instead took a 2-0 lead at the outset before dropping the next five games. “I just made so many errors.”
Her forehand, in particular, went awry, with no fewer than 10 unforced errors off that side in the first set alone.
“Too many mistakes there,” she said. “Easy mistakes.”
Williams’ frustration was visible early in the second set, when she leaned over and screamed, “Make a shot! Make a shot!”
After collecting her professional era-record 23rd Slam singles trophy at Melbourne Park while pregnant in 2017, Williams reached four major finals and lost them all.
She also now has lost in major semifinals twice in that span.
The 23-year-old Osaka joined two other players to win each of their first two major meetings against Williams. Williams’ sister Venus won their first three major meetings at the 1998 Australian Open, 2000 Wimbledon and 2001 US Open. The other is Jennifer Capriati at the 2001 French Open and 2001 Wimbledon, according to ESPN Stats & Information research.