Thursday, December 2News That Matters

Australian Open: Serena Williams isn’t feared by younger generation of tennis stars any more

The late submission to Naomi Osaka, the lingering look at the Rod Laver Arena before walking off, the fleeing of her press conference in tears.

Where once Serena Williams gave off a faintly intimidating air there was, instead, a sense of vulnerability as she departed the Australian Open.

There will be an American in Saturday’s women’s final, but it will be the relatively obscure figure of Jennifer Brady.

Serena Williams broke down in tears at her departing press conference at the Australian Open

Serena Williams broke down in tears at her departing press conference at the Australian Open

Williams, 39, struggled to contain her emotions and raised questions about her future in tennis

Williams, 39, struggled to contain her emotions and raised questions about her future in tennis

Serena Williams broke down in tears at her departing press conference at the Australian Open

The American had slightly lingered on the Rod Laver Arena as she waved to the Aussie fans

The American had slightly lingered on the Rod Laver Arena as she waved to the Aussie fans

The American had slightly lingered on the Rod Laver Arena as she waved to the Aussie fans

As she enters the final phase of her career 39-year-old Williams has to accept that, since she last won a Grand Slam four years ago, a younger generation has arrived who do not fear her.

Osaka seems to relish the challenge , as evidenced in a 6-3, 6-4 victory. She now faces the late-blooming Brady, who beat fellow outsider Karolina Muchova.

If Williams ever loses her composure in a press conference it is usually because she has been angered by something.

This time it was down to sadness and disappointment, triggered by a gentle inquiry about her future: ‘If I ever say farewell, I wouldn’t tell anyone,’ she responded. 

She choked up when asked about her self-confessed surfeit of unforced errors: ‘I don’t know…I’m done,’ she said as she got up to leave.

Naomi Osaka is one of the younger generation of players no longer intimidated by Serena

Naomi Osaka is one of the younger generation of players no longer intimidated by Serena

Naomi Osaka is one of the younger generation of players no longer intimidated by Serena

The American was second-best on the day as Naomi Osaka took her place in Saturday's final

The American was second-best on the day as Naomi Osaka took her place in Saturday's final

The American was second-best on the day as Naomi Osaka took her place in Saturday’s final

There will be an American in Saturday's final - but it's Jennifer Brady and not Williams

There will be an American in Saturday's final - but it's Jennifer Brady and not Williams

There will be an American in Saturday’s final – but it’s Jennifer Brady and not Williams 

These are unlikely to be her last words as a competitive player. 

Her improved movement, showcased in the previous round against Simona Halep, suggested that if the stars align she could still be a threat at Wimbledon, where she is so familiar with the terrain.

However, it must be possible that the documentary crew currently following her around this year will be recording her valedictory season.

Whatever her thought processes going forward, they could well be similar to Roger Federer, who was born less than two months before her.

For Williams, four years after her last major, the wait to equal Margaret Court's record goes on

For Williams, four years after her last major, the wait to equal Margaret Court's record goes on

For Williams, four years after her last major, the wait to equal Margaret Court’s record goes on

Serena later posted this photo on Instagram and admitted: ‘It was not the ideal outcome or performance but it happens…’

Serena Williams leaves her post-match press conference visibly upset after saying: 'I can't... I'm done'

Serena Williams leaves her post-match press conference visibly upset after saying: 'I can't... I'm done'

The 39-year-old waves goodbye to the Melbourne crowd after coming up short against Naomi Osaka in the semi-finals

The 39-year-old waves goodbye to the Melbourne crowd after coming up short against Naomi Osaka in the semi-finals

Serena has raised questions about her future after the semi-final defeat in the Australian Open 

Neither will wish to tarnish themselves by continually losing to lesser players, although that has hardly happened here with Williams. Osaka has shown again that on hard courts she is best player in the world.

Those who know Federer best believe that he will continue on into next year, assuming he is clear of the knee issues that have been dogging him.

Williams – who began her trip to Australia by referencing the longevity of 43-year-old Tom Brady (no relation) – may go on too, although a significant potential factor with her would be the desire to have another child.

When she came back after giving birth to Olympia in September 2017 it seemed only a matter of time before she equalled Margaret Court’s record of 24 Grand Slams.

Williams made a shock third round exit to Qiang Wang at last year's Australian Open

Williams made a shock third round exit to Qiang Wang at last year's Australian Open

Williams made a shock third round exit to Qiang Wang at last year’s Australian Open 

Williams' wait for a 24th Grand Slam continued as Bianca Andreescu won the 2019 US Open

Williams' wait for a 24th Grand Slam continued as Bianca Andreescu won the 2019 US Open

Williams’ wait for a 24th Grand Slam continued as Bianca Andreescu won the 2019 US Open 

Simona Halep became the first-ever Romanian to win at Wimbledon with victory in 2019

Simona Halep became the first-ever Romanian to win at Wimbledon with victory in 2019

Simona Halep became the first-ever Romanian to win at Wimbledon with victory in 2019

In the eleven Majors she has played since then she has reached four finals and two semi-finals. An impressive tally, but on the biggest occasions there is always someone willing to take her down.

The presence of a modest crowd, as Melbourne was reprieved from its latest lockdown, was not enough to fire her up for the bizarre conclusion to the match.

Osaka double faulted three times to see the match levelled at 4-4 in the second, but suddenly the American conceded the next eight points to hand the result on a platter. It is hard to believe she would wish to depart big-time tennis on that faintly embarrassing note.

The other semi-final was a much better contest. Remarkably, Brady was one of those forced into full lockdown upon arrival in Australia due to a positive test on her flight, not allowed out of her room to practice for two weeks.

A former college player who quit UCLA to turn pro, she is clearly the resourceful type. Yet she does not have the class of Osaka, the American-reared Japanese player, who has won all three of the hard court Grand Slam finals she has played.