While most of you are watching football, I’ll be watching (and betting on) the two best players of this year’s U.S. Open battle it out in the final. While both Serena Williams and Naomi Osaka have played brilliant tennis throughout the tournament, the experience discrepancy is massive. While Serena seeks her 24th Grand Slam singles title (and seventh at the U.S. Open), Osaka will be making her first ever major final appearance — against her idol.
We could not ask for a better meeting given their current forms, so let’s dive into a clash of the past/present vs. the present/future.
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Serena Williams (-260) vs Naomi Osaka (+220)
Time: 4:15 p.m. ET on ESPN
H2H: Osaka leads 1-0 (2018 Miami Open)
Both players have been great all tournament long. However, Osaka has faced the stiffer competition and turned back all advances, mainly Aryna Sabalenka and Madison Keys. Serena’s toughest competition was Kaia Kanepi, and Williams won with ease.
These two have only met once prior, which came earlier this year on the Miami hard courts. Naomi won in blowout fashion (6-3,6-2), but it was only Serena’s fourth match of 2018. Williams was clearly not ready for the hot Osaka, who arrived in Miami fresh off a title at Indian Wells. Obviously, this is a different stage and a different Serena.
Osaka’s biggest advantage so far this tournament has been her ability to win clutch points. In her two biggest matches, she won the critical points vs. Keys and Sabalenka. Against Keys, Osaka actually saved 13/13 break points. That is otherworldly.
Facing Serena in her first Grand Slam final will test every nerve Osaka has. Serena will come at Osaka hard and not let up until they meet at the net to shake hands. Williams will hit aggressive and deep ground strokes and try to get Osaka off her rhythm. Osaka handled similar tactics from Keys well, but she’ll need to raise her level even more to get this done.
Serena holds the advantage in every key category, but they are very slight advantages. And Osaka’s variance in her play from point-to-point and game-to-game is not quite as large as Serena’s. That is Osaka’s main advantage: consistency.
If she can keep a level head and maintain a positive state, Osaka has a real shot to pull off the upset, handing Serena her second consecutive Grand Slam final loss.
It’s mandatory Osaka gets off to a strong start against Serena, who has been very vulnerable in the first 3-4 games of a match. If Osaka can pick up an early break and quickly win a first set, she can perhaps delay the flood of nerves until maybe serving for the title.
Osaka has shown countless times this tourney and at Indian Wells that she’s one of the Tour’s most mature 20-year-olds. I do not think the moment will be too big in the final. She really learned a lot from her meltdown two years ago here against Keys. That painful experience is now paying dividends.
But this is Serena. And aside from the beginning of matches, she’s been the best player in the draw. Don’t expect her level to decrease in the final.
I make Serena a -245 favorite, so there’s minimal value in Osaka for the match. However, I do think Naomi +175 for the first set holds value — considering how slow Serena has started and nerves may not come into play as much. It’s also tough to play above Serena’s level for two sets on the biggest stage in her home country.
The Pick: Naomi Osaka +175 to win First Set