Osaka and role model Serena to serve up dream US Open final

Naomi Osaka's father was inspired by the Williams sisters almost 20 years ago. Now the Japanese will face Serena in the US Open final.

Serena Williams and Naomi Osaka following their meeting in Miami   -  Getty Images

In the 50th anniversary edition of the US Open, it is hard to see how the tournament could have delivered a more tantalising women's final.

Serena Williams and Naomi Osaka will go head-to-head in Arthur Ashe Stadium on Saturday, in what promises to be a fascinating duel between the WTA Tour's biggest star and a potential dominant force of the future.

The two finalists provide compelling individual storylines, with Williams seeking to claim a record-equalling 24th grand slam singles title and Osaka the first Japanese woman to reach this stage.

In addition, there is the age gap of 16 years and 20 days. Only once, when Monica Seles defeated Martina Navratilova here in 1991, has there been a greater disparity between two women's slam finalists.

However, the ties between Williams and Osaka are what make this contest particularly intriguing.

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Not only does Osaka idolise Williams, a point she has reiterated throughout the tournament, her career in tennis seemingly owes much to the upbringing of Serena and her sister, Venus.

The 20-year-old was born in the city of Osaka to a Japanese mother and a Haitian father, before moving to the United States at the age of three, initially living in New York and then switching to Florida.

Before the Osaka family departed Japan, Naomi's father, Leonard Francois, was inspired as he watched the teenage Williams sisters at the 1999 French Open and learned how their dad, Richard, had devised and executed a plan to turn the pair into champions.

"The blueprint was already there. I just had to follow it," Francois explained to the New York Times last month.

Follow it he did, with Osaka and her elder sister Mari, whose own career has been blighted by injury, duly receiving coaching and guidance from their father as they grew up in the USA.

That is not the only significant link between Osaka and Serena. 

In 2018, the youngster has benefited significantly from hiring highly regarded coach Sascha Bajin, who served as Williams' hitting partner for eight years.

Bajin was certainly an integral part of the Williams team. In an interview with USA Today in 2013, Serena said: "Outside of my parents, I think he's probably the most important person on my team. He's much more than a hitting partner. He's my older brother. He's family."

Having also worked with other experienced players in Victoria Azarenka and Caroline Wozniacki, Bajin has plenty of top-level experience and his impact on Osaka should not be underestimated.

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While her talent had been apparent for several years (the forehand of a 16-year-old Osaka stunned an established tour player in Andrea Petkovic), few would have anticipated the stunning breakthrough she made in Indian Wells in March as she became the lowest-ranked player to win a Premier Mandatory title on the WTA Tour.

Osaka then beat Serena in Miami the following week, although both players are well aware that Williams' level then was not what it is now. At that point, she had only just returned from the birth of her first child.

Now back to something like her brilliant best, the former world number one will start as the clear favourite on Saturday as she seeks to augment her record as the oldest women's slam champion in the Open era.

Williams has won 23 of her previous 30 slam finals and can be expected to rise to the occasion. It promises to be one heck of a contest if Osaka, whose career is inextricably linked to Serena, can do likewise.