Brutal truth Serena can’t swallow
Sometimes, the truth can be hard to take.
Serena Williams is finding that out after losing to Naomi Osaka in the Australian Open semi-finals this week.
Osaka — who revealed “disturbing” messages her sister has been sending in a group chat — destroyed her 39-year-old opponent 6-3 6-4 and crushed Williams’ dream of equalling Margaret Court’s grand slam singles record of 24 titles.
The American broke down in tears at her post-match press conference, which lasted less than four minutes, after being asked whether her emotional goodbye to the crowd at Rod Laver Arena was a sign she may not play another Australian Open again and be headed towards retirement.
However, her crying was also interpreted by some as a realisation that, despite coming into the year’s first grand slam in peak fitness and moving better than she has in years, she still couldn’t compete with Osaka, a three-time major winner.
Publicly, Williams wasn’t willing to admit that. Instead, she blamed her loss on unforced errors, lamenting the amount of mistakes off her own racquet.
“The difference today was errors. I made so many errors,” she said.
“Honestly, it was opportunities where I could have won. I could have been up 5-0 (in the first set). It was a big error day for me.”
Tennis analyst Matt Roberts doesn’t see it that way. He believes Williams made as many errors as she did because she was bullied into them by Osaka.
“We didn’t see the best of Serena but we did see the best of Naomi Osaka,” Roberts told The Tennis Podcast.
“It’s brought out a question of was Serena playing badly by her standards because she was playing badly? Or was it because of what Osaka was doing to her?
“That is the thing I was wrestling with throughout the match and by the end I came down on the side of, it was what Osaka was doing more than anything that was causing Serena to have an off day.
“The pressure Osaka can apply to Serena is unlike what anyone else can do.
“She’s calling the shots against Serena Williams, which is an extraordinary thing to say and to witness.”
Analysing Williams’ response to the defeat, broadcaster Catherine Whitaker suggested Osaka didn’t receive due credit for forcing the 23-time grand slam champion into playing well below her best — but can understand why Williams has to take that position, even if it’s not true.
“Very interestingly, that (Osaka outplaying her) is not how Serena Williams sees it ,” Whitaker told The Tennis Podcast.
“I don’t think that’s the correct interpretation, but I think Serena has to see it that way. She has to believe that matches are on her racquet, or else where does she go from here?
“I think for her to cope with that loss, as much as that might sound ungenerous towards Naomi Osaka and I think objectively it is, I understand why she needs to see it that way.”
Roberts said the nature of her defeat likely left Williams “confused” because after dominating the sport for so long, suddenly she can’t dictate terms like she’s been used to against a player of Osaka’s calibre.
“When you’ve spent your whole career knowing that your best is the best and feeling that way when you take to the court, when that doesn’t happen, that must shake you,” Roberts said. “That must panic you, that must confuse you.
“I can imagine that her assessment of the match is therefore, in the immediate aftermath, a little bit compromised. She must be confused about what happened.
“‘How is this happening to me?’ is the impression I got from her while she was playing and then in the press conference afterwards. She’s not used to this.”
Osaka will play American Jennifer Brady — the anti-Novak Djokovic hero the Australian Open needed — in the final on Saturday.
Originally published as Brutal truth Serena can’t swallow