TORONTO — It was not a lot a tennis rematch as a reboot, a likelihood for Serena Williams and Naomi Osaka to face off with out the static and sideshow that marred their United States Open ultimate 11 months in the past.
They met Friday evening in a Rogers Cup quarterfinal, collectively on court docket for the primary time since Osaka’s straight-sets victory in Queens, with outcomes that would not have been extra completely different.
This time, the one fireworks got here off Williams’s racket, as her bludgeoning energy yielded 12 aces to Osaka’s none in a 6-Three, 6-Four victory. Williams didn’t face a break level all through the match, the third of her profession in opposition to Osaka and the one one during which the elder triumphed.
“I knew her game a little bit more, so that’s a little easier,” Williams, 37, stated. “And, you know, I’m just over all a little bit better.”
When Osaka, 21, discovered she could be dealing with Williams once more, she beamed. “I mean she’s my tennis mom,” Osaka stated. “She’s someone I grew up watching.”
Both of them needed to be relieved to get this assembly out of the best way earlier than they return on the finish of the month to the Billie Jean King National Tennis Center, the place Osaka will start her U.S. Open title protection; Williams will pursue her first championship in additional than two years; and each of them will definitely be compelled to relive one of the crucial emotionally harrowing matches in tennis historical past.
Williams vigorously protested the officiating in that ultimate, shedding a level after which a recreation to penalties that she attributed, partially, to sexism. And Osaka, in her second of victory, wept. She initially thought the gang’s boos had been for her quite than for the chair umpire who had punished Williams.
Williams collected her ideas about that ultimate in an essay for Harper’s Bazaar in July, and revealed that she had sought therapy and written a letter of apology to Osaka.
The Rogers Cup quarterfinal made an ideal buffer.
After the match on Friday, there were no hugs, but the two shook hands politely, and Williams gently placed a hand on Osaka’s shoulder as they walked off.
Of course, the stakes and the setting were much different.
And the American superstar was not chasing her 24th career Grand Slam title to tie Margaret Court on the career singles list.
Unlike in New York, the crowd in Toronto on Friday was not overwhelmingly supportive of Williams; Osaka was cheered as well. Toronto has a substantial Asian population, and she won a lot of hearts in this city when, at the Open in New York, she became the first Japanese-born tennis player to win a Grand Slam title. She then went on to win the next major, the Australian Open, as well.
A year ago, Williams was frustrated in her attempt to match Court’s record. It’s a feat that has eluded her in her last three Grand Slam final appearances, and she has yet to win a title of any kind since giving birth to her daughter, Olympia, in September 2017.
Williams and Osaka have both had their struggles since that firestorm in New York.
Williams lost the Wimbledon final this year, to Simona Halep of Romania, and knows time is running out. She has been working hard on her conditioning, but she knows she needs more matches to make another assault on the U.S. Open. This is her seventh tournament this year so far, and she is entered in the Western & Southern Open in Cincinnati for her final U.S. Open tuneup.
Osaka has been particularly vulnerable of late. She split from her coach, brought in a new one and has since gone through a long stretch of bad results. Osaka has not won a WTA Tour title this season and is coming off a first-round exit at Wimbledon.
After that Wimbledon loss, Osaka cut off her news conference, saying, “I feel like I’m about to cry,” and left the podium.
Before coming to Toronto, Osaka took to social media to say that these last few months have been the “worst months of my life.”
All week, she looked as if she were trying to have fun again. When she made a mistake and lost a point, she would break into a wry grin and move on to the next point.
Osaka, the No. 2 seed, came into the quarterfinal having received a first-round bye, a walkover when Tatjana Maria retired with an injury and a victory over Iga Swiatek of Poland.
Williams, the No. 8 seed, had a bye in the first round, then beat Elise Mertens of Belgium and Ekaterina Alexandrova of Russia.
In the semifinals on Saturday, Williams beat Marie Bouzkova, a Czech qualifier, 6-1, 3-6, 6-3, and will now play Bianca Andreescu, the first Canadian in 50 years to make the women’s final of this tournament, on Sunday. Andreescu, 19, beat the American Sofia Kenin in their semifinal, 6-4, 7-6 (5).
Earlier in the week, Williams complained she felt sluggish. But her serve and powerful groundstrokes have carried her. And she moved better against Osaka.
The most dramatic moment came in the second set when Williams appeared to hurt her right arm as she slammed into the net post while trying to retrieve an Osaka drop shot. But she shook it off and closed the match with an ace.
If she was going to lose to anybody, Osaka said, she would rather lose to her idol. She modeled her own game after Williams’s, so she treated this as a learning experience.
“This is someone that I looked up to forever,” Osaka said. “So in a weird way, losing today, I accomplished my dream. I know that sounds kind of weird, but you know, if there’s anyone in the world that I would want to lose to — of course, I would never want to lose — but I don’t mind losing to her because I learned a lot.”
In defeat, Osaka will have something to celebrate come Monday when the rankings come out.
Buoyed by her two Grand Slam titles and some other high finishes in the past 52 weeks, she will be back in the top spot. The current No. 1, Ashleigh Barty of Australia, made a surprise exit earlier at the Rogers Cup, and No. 3 Karolina Pliskova of the Czech Republic lost in the quarterfinals to the Canadian Bianca Andreescu.
Williams was so effective in the rematch with Osaka that she was asked if the result last year in the U.S. Open final would have been different had she played at this level.
“I don’t know,” Williams said. “I think she was supposed to win that, and she deserved to win New York.”
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