Serena Williams will play Naomi Osaka in the US Open final after they came through Thursday’s semi-finals.
Six-time champion Williams cruised past Anastasija Sevastova 6-3 6-0 before Osaka made her first Grand Slam final by beating last year’s runner-up Madison Keys 6-2 6-4.
Victory for Williams over Osaka in today’s final will equal Margaret Court’s record of 24 Grand Slam singles titles.
Williams, 36, became a mother last year after suffering life-threatening blood clots during her pregnancy, and said post-match on Thursday: “To come from that, in the hospital bed, not being able to move and walk and do anything, now only a year later, I’m not training, but I’m actually in these finals, in two in a row.
“To come this far so fast – I’m really looking forward to the possibilities.
“I just feel like there’s a lot of growth still to go in my game, that’s actually the most exciting part,” she said.
“Even though I’m not a spring chicken, I still have a very, very bright future.”
Japan’s Osaka is 16 years younger than Williams and will get the chance to play her heroine in the US Open final.
“It feels a little bit, like, surreal. Even when I was a little kid, I always dreamed that I would play Serena in a final of a Grand Slam,” Osaka said.
“At the same time I feel like even though I should enjoy this moment, I should still think of it as another match.
“I shouldn’t really think of her as my idol. I should just try to play her as an opponent.”
Osaka won her only previous match against Williams in March at the Miami Open.
Williams says she feels like she has “already won” after a year-long journey which has culminated in the tennis great reaching her ninth US Open final.
After losing the Wimbledon final to Angelique Kerber, Williams will have another chance on Saturday to equal Margaret Court’s all-time record of 24 major singles titles against first-timer and 16 years her junior, Naomi Osaka.
Williams never expressed any doubt that she would return to the game following the birth of her daughter Olympia last September, but that seemed an awfully long way away when she was fighting for her life in a hospital bed after developed life-threatening complications.
“It’s really incredible. A year ago I was literally fighting for my life after I had the baby. Every time I step out on this court, I am so grateful I have an opportunity to play this sport. No matter what happens in any match – semis, final – I feel like I’ve already won,” said six-time US Open champion, Williams.
Williams, who has dropped only one set in the tournament, put her current level at only 50 or 60 per cent, added: “I definitely don’t feel myself yet. My mom said it takes a full year to get back. I’m at a full year now. But I’m also playing a sport professionally.
“Even my body is different. I actually weigh less than I did before I got pregnant, but it’s distributed differently now.
“This is the beginning. I’m not there yet. I’m on the climb still. I just feel like not only is my future bright, even though I’m not a spring chicken, but I still have a very, very bright future. That is super exciting for me.”
Williams’ opponent Osaka was only a year old when Williams won her first Grand Slam title here in 1999. Now, 19 years later, she will try to become the first Japanese woman to win a major singles title.
Osaka showed incredible poise to save all 13 break points she faced on her way to victory over Madison Keys and deny home spectators an all-American affair in the final.
Asked how she did it, she replied: “This is going to sound really bad but I was just thinking, ‘I really want to play Serena’.”
“Of course it feels a little bit surreal,” said the 20-year-old. “Even when I was a little kid, I always dreamed that I would play Serena in a final of a grand slam. Just the fact that it’s happening, I’m very happy about it.
“At the same time I feel like, even though I should enjoy this moment, I should still think of it as another match. I shouldn’t really think of her as my idol. I should just try to play her as an opponent.”
And as for how those dreams ended: “I don’t dream to lose, so… That’s how I’m answering your question.”