Serena Williams is back in the U.S. Open women’s final. Across the net on Saturday, she’ll face a rising star who grew up idolizing her.

Williams and Naomi Osaka both won their semifinal matches in convincing style Thursday evening. After losing the first two games, Williams thumped Anastasija Sevastova 6-3, 6-0. Osaka escaped a love-40 hole early in her match against Madison Keys, took the lead and never looked back in a 6-2, 6-4 victory.

Asked by ESPN’s Tom Rinaldi in an on-court interview how she saved all 13 break points in the match, Osaka said, “I was just thinking, ‘I really want to play Serena.’”

The comparison between Williams, 36 years old, and Osaka, 20, could not be more compelling. This will be the 31st Grand Slam final for Williams, who has won 23 of them, one fewer than the all-time record of 24 by Margaret Court. Overall, Williams has won 72 pro tournaments in her career. Osaka, who will play in her first Grand Slam final, won the first—and only—title of her career earlier this year, in Indian Wells.

But one does not need to watch Osaka for long to see a young version of Williams. She is 2 inches taller, at 5-foot-11, and can already serve close to 120 mph. She hits a solid kick serve that bounces high, and runs with speed. And despite not yet having the confidence of Williams, she is relentless. Against Keys, Osaka controlled her emotions, and her strokes, in a way similar to Williams. Continue reading

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