September 7, 2018
Can we mention the number 24 to Serena Williams? Will she like it?
Don’t talk about 24 in relation to Gramd Slam titles.
That’s the number Margaret Court won. The most any woman has ever won.
That’s the number Serena was trying to equal when she tightened so badly and lost the Wimbledon 2018 final to Angelique Kerber.
That’s the number she will be trying to equal once more when she plays Naomi Osaka, the first Japanese woman to play a Grand Slam final.
Or will she? Seems like Serena will be trying to forget the number 24 in that regard.
History is heavy. Sometimes too heavy for tennis shoulders. Too heavy even for those powerful Serena shoulders to bear.
It looked that way once more, after six minutes against Anastasija Sevastova. Serena was already 0-2 down and looking nervous.
Then the new psychology kicked in. As she explained later: ‘A year ago I was fighting, literally, for my life after having the baby. So every time I play now it feels like I’ve won already.’
She has said it before. Now she seems to feel it at last. Believe it. Great mindset.
It helped her win twelve of the next thirteen games to humble her opponent 6-3, 6-0.
Forget the number 24, then. That’s what Serena should do…Or should she?
Because the number 24 has suddenly become hugely significant for her in another way.
Serena surged to the net repeatedly to stun Sevastova throughout her relentless comeback. She went there 28 times.
Guess how many points she won of those 28? That’s right, 24.
‘I have won a few doubles championships so I know how to volley,’ Serena pointed out later. ‘I just usually only come to the net to shake hands.’
Nice line. But if she can win 24 points at the net against Osaka, she will win her 24th Grand Slam title. And equal the Australian from another era, Court.
And what of Naomi? A true superstar in the making, we suspect. Only 20 years old and utterly charming.
Unless you are playing her in a tennis match. Then she can be utterly frustrating.
Like when she saved all 13 break points Madison Keys engineered against her, to win 6-2, 6-4. That dashed hopes of an all-American final.
But all was forgiven by the Flushing Meadows crowd. Not just because Osaka moved to the USA aged three and has dual nationality.
When Naomi did her on-court interview just after the match, hearts melted in the night heat.
‘Got a message for your mum?’
‘Mum, I did it, I love you!’ she said.
And for Serena?
This is where we expected Naomi to steel herself a little and tell Serena she was coming for her.
‘I love you,’ she said to Serena.
Say what? You are supposed to be psyching out your fellow finalist and you tell her you love her?
Well that’s a new one. Maybe it’ll even work! Thing is, she meant it.
Asked how she had been able to save all those break points, she said: ‘This is going to sound bad. But I was thinking “I really want to play Serena.” Because she is Serena.’
So now the competitive quality of the final will depend upon whether Naomi Osaka is truly star-struck, or whether she will secretly be able to tell herself something else?
‘I am going to beat Serena, take my first Grand Slam, become the first Japanese player to do it. And then tell Serena I love her once more.’ Is that what Osaka is planning?
It’s going to be fascinating to find out. And either way the final is going to be historic.
Will the significant number be 24? Or 1?Saturday will give us the answer.