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Naomi Osaka “realises she is better” than Australian Open semi-final opponent Serena Williams reckons men’s great Mats Wilander. The Japanese takes on her long-time idol in the final four looking to set up a showdown with either Karolina Muchova or Jennifer Brady.
Osaka, 23, is looking for her third Grand Slam triumph and her second in Melbourne as her opponent Serena bids for a record-equalling 24th major win to draw level with Margaret Court.
The two meet on Thursday (3am UK time) for the first time since Osaka won an incident-packed 2018 US Open final to secure her first ever Slam.
Since then, Osaka has risen to be ranked world No 1 – though she currently stands at No 3 behind Ashleigh Barty and Simona Halep – and won two more Slams.
And International Tennis Hall of Fame Wilander, a seven-time Grand Slam winner who won three titles in Australia, believes Osaka thinks she is superior to the 39-year-old Serena, who is ninth in the rankings.
“I think Serena’s footwork really makes the difference, she knows she doesn’t have to rip the ball as hard as possible all the time and she actually got Simona Halep to make a few mistakes during this match,” Wilander told Eurosport.
“This is the best I’ve seen Serena look, she’s served well when she’s needed to and I think it was good that she was tested in that second set.
“When she is pushed into a corner, Serena seems more keen to get back to the middle of the court. She really looks stronger.
“I think Naomi Osaka serves well enough where she can hold serve by getting free points and Serena is going to feel some pressure.
“I think Osaka hits the ball harder where she goes close to the line or not and will put Serena on the defence, just like we saw at the US Open final – that infamous match.
“Osaka is a better player now and I think Osaka realises she is better than Serena and I think Serena is going to have pick up her game to another level to have a chance.
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“That’s because I’ve seen what’s happened to Serena over the last few years and I’m not really sure where to put the match today of Serena.”
Former women’s world No 1 Justine Henin, the 2004 Australian Open champion and a seven-time Grand Slam champion, added: “It’s a really exciting match. I think they both confident and they are both playing well.
“They respect each other, that’s for sure. Of course, there was that drama in the US Open final but that was a long time ago now.
“Serena has impressed me in different ways, I think it was a great victory against Halep, even if Simona was a bit disappointed in her intentions and Serena completely controlled the match.
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“Serena looks better physically than what we have seen in the recent past and she is again the finals – so it’s pretty amazing but now the step up is going to be really high for her because Naomi, for me, took on a new dimension with her victory at the US Open [in 2020].
“She won Grand Slams in the past, it was tough for her to become number one in the world, there was a lot of expectations, a lot of pressure, but everything has changed for her now.
“We have the feeling there are two bosses in this tournament – one with the experience and an amazing champion; and the other because she is becoming more and more consistent.
“This is why it is going to be exciting – the way they play, of course it is going to be an aggressive match with a lot of determination, they are both amazing fighters and they both serve well.
“The pressure is going to on both sides of the net and I think the pressure that Osaka is going to put on Serena is going to be much, much different to what she experienced in the first few matches of the tournament.
“This is going to be really interesting, I give a small advantage to Naomi Osaka, that’s how I see it – she has the weapons.
“But Serena is showing amazing resilience. She made a few too many mistakes today which she will have to avoid in the next match, but was tactically very good.
“The next match is going to be another level in this tournament.”
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