For the first time since US Open 2010, there was no Serena Williams competing at Flushing Meadows. But there were fleeting glimpses of the tennis great on court, in the form of the rising teenage star Naomi Osaka. The 19-year-old Japanese-American player has long been pipped to be the ‘next Serena’ and she showed some of that potential by ousting defending champion Angelique Kerber.
There was that similar curly, flowing, bouncy hair, and a fondness for bright colours. Serena, who won her first US Open in 1999, was Osaka’s idol, and the Japanese-American player seems to have modelled her game on the unconventional swings of Serena’s.
The big serve, the stand-up-and-whack backhands, and then the flat sledgehammer forehands.
Naomi Osaka celebrates during her first round clash against Angelique Kerber. AP
All of that potential talent and power was channelled as she overwhelmed Kerber, seeded six, 6-3, 6-1 in only 64 minutes to produce the upset of the tournament so far.
At the Arthur Ashe Stadium on Tuesday, two forces moving in opposite directions collided in the round one match. While Osaka has steadily been moving up the charts, Kerber has been going through an alarming descent. The 29-year-old is a pale shadow of a player that burst through in 2016, starting with a win over Serena in the final of the Australian Open. She made it to the title clash at Wimbledon as well before winning her second major of the year at the US Open.
The title she won at New York last year even propelled her to the world number 1 ranking — making her the first German since Steffi Graf to reach the summit. But she returned to the venue lacking in confidence. Great defense and steely determination had seen her outlast her competition last season, but she has struggled to keep the work-rate up this time around. Her best result at the Grand Slams this year have been fourth round finishes at Wimbledon and Australian Open, while she has succumbed to opening round defeats at the French Open and the US Open.
Her serve let her down in the first set as she picked up five double faults. Her ground strokes, save for a few flashes of brilliance, lacked the depth to exploit Osaka’s inexperien
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