Serena Willams vs Naomi Osaka: This Could be a Classic
Serena Williams has won 23 majors and played in hundreds of big matches because she does something better than nearly anyone else. Serena’s transitions from offense to defense and from defense to offense trouble her opponents.
Serena has the best serve on the WTA Tour and can dictate play as well as anyone. However, Serena can also turn the tables if a player such as Karolina Pliskova or Madison Keys is seemingly dictating play. Furthermore, Serena tends to react well when players such as Simona Halep or Angelique Kerber counter-punch Williams into a tough spot. Serena has great reflexes and adjusts well to her opponents hitting tough shots. Serena is a player who likes to play offense, but her defense is typically better than just hitting the ball back and hoping for an error when the opposition is in an advantageous position.
We have a lot less information on Naomi Osaka, but she seems to be a similar player. Osaka hit opportune big serves and knocked off putaway forehands in her semifinal victory over Madison Keys. Osaka also redirected, rather than simply absorbing, Keys’ power.
Finding the Right Mix
Serena Williams and Naomi Osaka each face an opponent quite capable of dictating play or turning the tables during any given point. This will present unique challenges as a player who tries to dictate too often may become frustrated by the resilient responses from the other side of the net. A player who backs off of Plan A too much in hopes of counterpunching may lose her strategic path.
So each player will need to seek the right mix of attacking and defending to prevail. Osaka’s mental state in her first major final is an X factor. I think hitting a decent number of balls and running in the early stages of the match would be wise for the younger finalist as it might help her loosen up. If I were coaching Osaka, I would recommend placing confidence in her fitness, athleticism, and speed to get her into the match. From there, attacking more frequently could put pressure on Williams. If I were coaching Serena, I would borrow from Brad Gilbert’s philosophy of making an opponent feel your game. Serena should impose her formidable game as well as the situation of a major final on her younger opponent. Serena should pressure Osaka in the early stages and only dial back aggression if the match calls for it.
I hope we see a match in which both players test the ability of the other to redirect pressure as that match will be fun to see.