Naomi Osaka told her revered US Open title opponent Serena Williams “I love you” just moments after she became the first Japanese woman to reach a Grand Slam final.
The 20-year-old breakout star of the tournament swept into the record books and Saturday’s championship match against the 23-time major winner with a 6-2, 6-4 win over Madison Keys, the runner-up in 2017.
When asked on court what she told herself as she served for the match, she said: “Don’t double fault”.
“Why,” asked the interviewer. “Serena,” replied the charismatic Osaka.
“I love you, Serena,” she added before adding “I love you, mom; I love everybody”.
Osaka, the 20th seed, has met and defeated Williams once — at Miami in March.
That win came just a week after she had lifted her first top-level trophy at the prestigious Indian Wells event in California.
Saturday will be the fulfilment of Osaka’s childhood dream of facing Williams in a Grand Slam final.
“It still 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,” she said.
“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.
“Yeah, I shouldn’t really think of her as, like, my idol. I should just try to play her as an opponent.”
The contrast on Saturday cannot be greater.
Serena will be playing in her 31st Grand Slam final and ninth at the US Open where she is a six-time champion.