Serena Williams took control early in Thursday's Australian Open semifinal showdown with Naomi Osaka.
The 23-time Grand Slam winner broke Osaka in the first game of the match and faced a chance to take a 3-0 lead with a break point on Osaka's second serve. Then, the 23-year-old presumed heir to Williams' throne took over.
Osaka saved the break point to win the first of five straight games en route to a dominant 6-3, 6-4 win to advance to the Australian Open final. There, she'll seek her fourth Grand Slam title and her second Australian Open crown.
Osaka stays perfect beyond Grand Slam quarterfinal round
Williams came into the match on a tear, fresh off a straight-set win over World No. 2 Simona Halep. She beat Osaka in a Jan. 28 Australian Open warmup, 6-2, 2-6, 10-7.
But as was the case in their only previous Grand Slam matchup, the rising star bettered the established icon she grew up watching, denying Williams a chance at matching Margaret Court's all-time tally of 24 Grand Slam wins.
Osaka's win over Williams in the infamous 2018 US Open final marked her first Grand Slam championship. Since then, she's added another US Open title and Australian Open championship to establish herself as the game's most formidable force on the Grand Slam stage.
With the win, Osaka remains undefeated in her career once she reaches the Grand Slam quarterfinal round. She'll be a heavy favorite against Jennifer Brady, the tournament's No. 22 seed, on Saturday.
Osaka beat back late charge from Williams
Williams threatened to turn the tide late in the second set, scoring her first break since the opening game to tie the set at 4-4. But Osaka would not be rattled. She reeled off four straight points on Williams' next serve and did the same to win the set with the match on her racket.
Though shaky at times, she wielded a superior serve to Williams the entire match.
After the match, a gracious Williams shared a hug with Osaka then acknowledged an appreciative Rod Laver Arena crowd that had just been welcomed back after a COVID-19 outbreak cleared the stands earlier in the tournament. At that point, the stage belonged to Osaka.
"It's always an honor to play her," Osaka said of Williams while answering a question about her slow start. "I just didn't want to go out, like, really bad. So I just wanted to try my best."
She did not go out really bad. She reasserted her status as the best player in the game.
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