Will Serena Williams ever lay claim to that ever-elusive 24th Grand Slam title? That remains to be seen. But on Thursday, the Compton, Calif., native fell short in her historic quest after losing 6-3, 6-4 to Naomi Osaka in the Australian Open semifinals.
By doing so, Osaka extended her winning streak to 20 consecutive matches and will advance to her fourth major title match, per NBC Sports.
“It’s always an honor to play [Williams],” Osaka told reporters. “I just didn’t want to go out really bad. […] Just to be on the court playing against her, for me, is a dream. The biggest thing that I’ve learned over the years is […] you’re a competitor. You’re playing against another competitor.”
On Saturday, the 23-year-old will wage war with 22nd-seeded American Jennifer Brady for the championship. As for Serena, she put her hand over her heart and was showered with cheers as she exited Rod Laver Arena. But at 39-years-old, could her latest defeat signal the end of her celebrated tennis career?
“I don’t know,” she told reporters after the match. “If I ever say farewell, I wouldn’t tell anyone.”
On Instagram, Serena was a bit more forthcoming about her disappointment but remained tight-lipped about her future.
“Melbourne and my Australian fans—Today was not an ideal outcome or performance but it happens,” she wrote. “I am so honored to be able to play in front of you all. Your support—your cheers, I only wish I could have done better for you today. I am forever in debt and grateful to each and every single one of you. I love you. I love you. I love you. I adore you.”
Since almost losing her life giving birth to her daughter, Olympia, in 2017, Serena has competed in 11 major tournaments, reaching six semifinals and four finals. But with talented players like Osaka forging their own legacies in tennis, Serena has gone from the overwhelming favorite to the underdog at Slams.
“I want her to play forever,” Osaka said. “That’s the little kid in me.”
And even though she emerged victorious against her idol on Thursday, Osaka is never afraid to admit her shortcomings. After getting just 36 percent of her first serves in during the opening frame, she was completely honest about her struggles on the court.
“I just started making way too much unforced errors because I was worried about what she would do if I were to hit a softball,” she said. “I’ve grown up watching what she does to people’s serves when they’re soft.”
She’s also more than ready to join the Williams sisters in becoming the third active woman to win at least four majors.
“I have this mentality that people don’t remember the runners-up,” Osaka said. “You might, but the winner’s name is the one that’s engraved. I think I fight the hardest in the finals. I think that’s where you sort of set yourself apart.”
Jennifer Brady better watch her ass.