Naomi Osaka will contest her second Australian Open final in two years, following a masterful performance to end her idol Serena Williams’ campaign for a record-equalling 24th major.
The thought of losing has become almost inconceivable for the Japanese third seed as she extended her winning streak to 20 matches.
Her 6-3 6-4 victory on Rod Laver Arena came in just 75 minutes and inflicted a first Australian Open semifinal defeat on the 39-year-old Williams from nine showings.
It was Osaka’s third triumph over the seven-time champion from four meetings.
“I think honestly for me it’s always an honour to play her and I just don’t want to go out really bad so I just wanted to try my best,” Osaka said.
“I was a little kid watching her play. Just to be on the court playing her is a dream.”
Williams was contesting her 40th Grand Slam semifinal and was dialled in from the off as she broke in the opening game.
The American had broken Osaka only three times in their previous meetings, but after holding for 2-0, her advantage was quickly snuffed out as Osaka reeled off four straight games to take control of the opening set.
“I think I just hit a lot of unforced errors in the first few games,” Osaka said. “I was just really nervous and scared in the beginning and then I sort of eased my way into it. For me I think the biggest thing is just having fun and it’s the first day having the crowd in a while.”
There was a fired-up “c’mon” from Williams directed at herself in frustration as she stemmed the flow to hold for 3-5, but it was merely delaying the inevitable as Osaka held with ease, a thunderous forehand in behind her wrong-footed opponent sealing the opening set in 38 minutes.
It had been six years since Williams had come back from a set down to triumph at Melbourne Park.
That was against Garbine Muguruza in the fourth round and if she was to keep the flame flickering in her 20th Australian Open, she would have to do so against Osaka.
Desperate to inject energy and sway momentum, Williams roared in encouragement following winners in the opening game of the second set, but it was not enough as her 23-year-old opponent secured the early break.
Osaka looked to be prying open the floodgates as back-to-back 193km/h aces pushed the third seed to 2-0, but on the first day fans had returned since a five-day lockdown, the crowd rallied behind Williams after she missed a short forehand well long.
Trailing 1-3 it was now or never and the No.10 seed hammered a forehand winner to lift the crowd further.
Two games from the finish line, Osaka showed her only real sign of nerves since the opening game when three double faults handed her opponent a lifeline for 4-all.
It was a fleeting reprieve. Williams was broken to love as Osaka rolled a carefully angled backhand winner and served it out to love.
There were three bows from Osaka at net, a Japanese nod of respect for her hugely accomplished idol.
It was a fitting moment as the natural heir to Williams’ throne.