Australia — For the second time in two consecutive hardcourt Grand Slam events, Serena Williams’s Sisyphean pursuit of Margaret Court’s record of 24 major singles titles ended in the semifinals at the hands of a former world No. 1.
Osaka finished with 20 winners to 12 by Williams, who left the Rod Laver Arena court to a standing ovation from the spectators. They had returned to Melbourne Park on Thursday after a five-day lockdown imposed because of the coronavirus pandemic, and she acknowledged their ovation by waving to the crowd and placing her hand over her heart.
In the final, Osaka will face Jennifer Brady, who outlasted Karolina Muchova of the Czech Republic, 6-4, 3-6, 6-4.
The loss for Williams came five months after she took the first set but was toppled at the United States Open by Victoria Azarenka. Despite moving as well on the court as she has in years, Williams, 39, could not keep pace with Osaka, 23, a three-time Grand Slam champion who has a streak of 20 match victories.
Williams’s last Grand Slam title came at the 2017 Australian Open, which she won while two months pregnant with her daughter, Alexis Olympia Ohanian. Since returning to competition in 2018 after a difficult childbirth, which included a C-section delivery and complications stemming from blood clots, Williams has played in 11 Grand Slam tournaments and advanced to the semifinals or finals in six.
The Australian player Samantha Stosur, who defeated Williams in the 2011 U.S. Open final for her only Grand Slam singles title, said that Williams didn’t need to equal or surpass Court to cement her status as the greatest player in the history of the women’s game.
“I think many players would already think that and argue that fact regardless, whether she gets this 24th title or not,” Stosur said.
After impervious play early in the second set, Osaka gave Williams the lifeline she needed in the eighth game, hitting three double faults to level the score at 4-4.
Neither player seemed to realize that the third double fault on break point had happened initially: Williams’ loud grunt as she lunged for the return drowned out the sound of the recorded out call which plays when the automated technology senses the ball has landed out.
But after the hiccup, Osaka immediately steeled herself, winning the final eight points of the match.
A quick note on the crowd: It’s been pretty even so far, but now they really want a third set and it’s getting loud for Serena.
That said, it’s not at 50 percent capacity, even though Tennis Australia was cleared to sell that many tickets. Hard to say whether it is sparse because it is a school day, or perhaps the recent small Covid-19 outbreak and snap lockdown that lifted at midnight scared people away.