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By Richard Pagliaro | Thursday, September 10, 2020

 
Naomi Osaka

Playing with power and poise, Naomi Osaka edged Jennifer Brady 7-6(1), 3-6, 6-3, charging into her second US Open final in the last three years.

Photo credit: Simon Bruty/USTA

Life in the bubble hasn’t hampered Naomi Osaka’s love of lighting up the big stage.

In an exhilarating encounter of power and poise, Osaka beat back a fierce challenge from Jennifer Brady 7-6(1), 3-6, 6-3 charging into her second US Open final in the last three years.

More: What is Fall Out From Djokovic's US Open Default?

As rain pelted the retractable roof on Arthur Ashe Stadium, Osaka struck with wall-rocking power earning her 10th straight victory advancing to a Grand Slam final for the third straight year.




“It means a lot for me,” Osaka told ESPN’s Mary Joe Fernandez. “I kind of considered New York my second home. I really love the atmosphere, even though sadly there’s no people here, I really feel like this court suits me well.”

The two-time Grand Slam champion will face either 23-time Grand Slam champion Serena Williams or former world No. 1 Victoria Azarenka in Saturday's final.

A dreary, drizzly day compelled officials to close the roof over Arthur Ashe Stadium for tonight’s opening semifinal creating pristine—and sweaty—conditions for two big hitters to crack the ball as if trying to knock the label right off the felt.

This was a semifinal of superior serving, crackling first-strike tennis and no dawdling at all delivering a standard of excellence unmatched in the tournament so far.

The pair combined for 70 winners in a two hour, eight-minute skirmish that featured just two breaks of serve. This match popped with adrenalized rallies giving us a glimpse of a possible future rivalry.

"I felt like we were both serving pretty well. It really was just about making first serves, first ball after that," Brady said. "It was who was the more aggressive player on every single point. I think it rewarded the more aggressive player.

"Maybe she was the more aggressive player today. She played, you know, cleaner at times. I think it was a pretty high-quality match from both of us."

Ultimately, Osaka’s experience—she recalled her three-set win over Petra Kvitova in the 2019 Australian Open final—her commitment to explosiveness in the face of pressure and staying power helped her cross the finish line as she improved to 3-0 in major semifinals.

“Honestly I don’t know [the difference]; I just felt like I was sticking it out,” Osaka said. “It felt like we were trading serves. I tried to adjust a little bit on her serve in the third set so maybe it helped.

“Honestly I had flashbacks of playing Kvitova in the Australian Open final so maybe that experience helped me out today.”

The first break went to Brady’s shoelace—the emerald end snapped in her opening service game. Brady took a quick pit stop to re-lace her shoe then slammed down an ace to level after two games.

Thumping her first serve with sting, Osaka dropped just three point streamrolling through her first three service games.

Matching the 2018 US Open champion serve-for-serve, Brady capped her first three service games with aces.

Both women were driving the ball so hard and deep any deviation was unsettling. A net-cord forced Osaka forward where she scattered an approach long to face the first break point of the match. Osaka saved it challenging the American’s backhand with a biting second serve, eventually holding for 4-3.

The Lexington champion, who spent the offseason sculpting her body and strengthening her mind training with coach Michael Geserer in Germany, showed no trace of nerve working through a tricky hold to force the tiebreaker.

Relying on her searing serve, skill taking the ball on the rise and some timely forehand strikes, Osaka elevated her game even higher in the tiebreaker.

Snapping off a 117 mph jammer into the body, Osaka went up 3-1. Brady, who was banging her forehand with vigor all set, sailed successive forehand errors.




Targeting the American’s backhand wing, Osaka shrewdly wrong-footed Brady belting a forehand down the line for a fistful of set points at 6-1. She needed only one.

Osaka slammed a serve winner down the T capping a 51-minute set that saw her win 21 of 22 first-serve points as both women delivered a lofty level of both power and placement.

Occasionally mixing in her slice backhand, Brady started to mix her spins a bit more going up 15-3 on Osaka’s serve. The fourth seed came firing back taking a crosscourt forehand early and clocking it crosscourt to help hold for 2-all.

If you’ve seen Brady this tournament you know all about her ability to play game-changing offense, but in the eight game she showed both offense and determined defense. Repelling everything Osaka threw at her in a fierce 18-shot rally, Brady drew an errant forehand earning the first break for 5-3.




The world No. 41 rolled through the final three games to snatch the second set with a shout and force a decider.

Rain pelted the retractable roof over Arthur Ashe Stadium as the third set began while Osaka thundered her forehand down the line navigating a tense hold for 2-1.




Burned by a couple of net cords earlier, Osaka caught a break when her net cord shot crashed into tape and dribbled over for break point. Brady’s biggest mistake of the match came when she failed to challenge her forehand, which was incorrectly called out, though Hawk-Eye replay on ESPN showed the shot touched the back edge of the baseline.

Osaka seized the break for 3-1.

"I felt like I was trying to mix it up when I could," Brady said. "She just hits such a big ball, it comes so fast. I think I didn't hit as many forehands as I would have liked to today from the middle of the court. 

"I went in with a game plan, and I think I was able to execute that game plan, but just didn't come out with the result."

The 2019 Australian Open champion asserted her aggression when it mattered most. Osaka curled a crosscourt forehand pass on the dead run—that key strike helped her back up the break for 4-1 and shifted pressure right back on Brady’s shoulders.




The former UCLA all American, the first college player to reach the US Open semifinals since Lori McNeil in 1987, wasn’t done yet. Brady unloaded some heavy baseline blasts and exploited Osaka’s first double fault to draw even at 30-all when Osaka served for it.

Undaunted, Osaka slammed a forehand into the corner then slashed one final serve winner down the middle to close a clean, quality victory.




Playing for her third major title, Osaka's aim to compete with positivity has yielded powerful results.

"Honestly I just felt like I want to come out of quarantine being positive and not really caring whether I win or lose, but just knowing I put in 100 percent effort," Osaka said.

On this night, major mission accomplished magnifcently.

 

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