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Williams bids emotional goodbye as Osaka soars to seal final shot



Serena Williams (right) embraces Naomi Osaka

Serena Williams (right) embraces Naomi Osaka

Getty Images

Serena Williams (right) embraces Naomi Osaka

Serena Williams bade a tearful farewell to the Australian Open amid questions about whether she may have played at the tournament for the last time.

Williams gave the crowd inside the Rod Laver Arena a long wave goodbye with her hand on her heart following her 6-3 6-4 semi-final defeat by Naomi Osaka - a gesture which prompted speculation about whether the 39-year-old would ever be back competing at Melbourne Park.

In her post-match press conference, Williams, who had never previously lost a semi-final in Melbourne, responded: "I don't know. If I ever say farewell, I wouldn't tell anyone. So..."

Williams then became tearful during the next question, a relatively mundane enquiry about her unforced errors during the match, and said: "I don't know. I'm done," before leaving the room.

Williams once again came up short in her 11th attempt to move level with Margaret Court's record haul of 24 grand slam singles titles, and it is now a year-and-a-half since she made a final.

Japanese third seed Osaka, the champion in 2019, overcame a nervous start in front of a limited crowd, let back in after Victoria's coronavirus lockdown was lifted.

From 2-0 down, she won eight out of the next nine games before ultimately wrapping up victory in an hour and 15 minutes.

Osaka said on court: "I was really nervous and scared in the beginning but I eased my way into it.

"It was about having fun and it was the first day having a crowd for a while. It's an honour to play her and I didn't want to go out really bad so I just tried my best.

"I was a little kid watching her play so coming up against her on the court for me is a dream."

Osaka has maintained her huge admiration and respect for Williams despite the tumult of their first slam meeting at the US Open in 2018 and, asked about their matches in the context of the American's age, the 23-year-old said: "It's kind of sad when you say it like that because, for me, I want her to play forever."

Osaka will be looking to maintain her record of never having lost a grand slam final when she takes on American Jennifer Brady tomorrow. The third seed, who has not lost a match for more than a year, said: "I have this mentality that people don't remember the runners-up. I think I fight the hardest in the finals. I think that's where you sort of set yourself apart."

Brady, ranked 24, will be playing in her first slam final after beating Czech Karolina Muchova 6-4 3-6 6-4.

There was late drama when Brady thought she had taken her second match point, dropping to her knees only to realise her shot was out. She had to save three break points before finally clinching her fifth opportunity and falling to the court.

The 25-year-old said: "I can't feel my legs. My legs are shaking, my heart is racing."

Meanwhile, Novak Djokovic declared himself back in peak condition after ending the run of qualifier Aslan Karatsev to reach a ninth Australian Open final.

The world number one, who has won the title on each of the eight previous occasions he has reached the semi-finals in Melbourne, claimed his first straight-sets win since the first round, beating the world number 114 6-3 6-4 6-2.

It was a much-needed comfortable evening for Djokovic after the dramas of his tournament so far, including an abdominal injury suffered in a third-round five-setter against Taylor Fritz and a nail-biting victory over Alexander Zverev in the quarter-finals.

The 33-year-old said: "It took a lot out of me. I was exhausted, especially after Zverev's match, but I was thrilled to overcome those huge challenges. I knew that once I triumphed over Zverev that things will be better. I just had that kind of inner feeling and proved to be right."

Djokovic will bid for his 18th grand slam title on Sunday in his 28th final, with Daniil Medvedev and Stefanos Tsitsipas doing battle tonight in the second semi-final.

Belfast Telegraph