By Simon Evans
LONDON (Reuters) – Naomi Osaka wasn’t even born when Venus Williams made her debut at the All England Club, but it was the 37-year-old who triumphed on Friday to book her place in the last 16 at Wimbledon.
It was by no means easy though for five-times Wimbledon winner Williams to turn that 20 years of experience on the grass at SW19 into a win against the 59th ranked 19-year-old.
The 7-6(3) 6-4 result does not truly reflect the powerful attacking and spectacular winners from Osaka, who did enough in this encounter to suggest that longer runs at Wimbledon could be in her future.
Indeed, despite her tender age, Osaka, whose mother is Japanese and father Haitian, has reached the third round in each of the Grand Slams.
The 19-year-old, who moved to the United States as a young child, has made no secret of being a fan of the Williams sisters, but she was far from over-awed by the occasion or her opponent.
“I think I started tennis because of them … (but) going into the match, I tried not to think of her that much of how I normally do. I tried to think of her as a normal opponent so that I didn’t hold her on that high of a pedestal, that would make me too nervous, I think, to play her,” she said.
After fighting back from 4-1 down in the opening set, Osaka could easily have won it – she was 3-0 up in the tie-break before Venus, showing her characteristic grit and calm, took the next seven points.
It was tight in the second until Venus took advantage of some wayward shots from Osaka to grab a break in the seventh and she held firm to secure a place against Croatian Ana Konjuh in the fourth round.
“She played an amazing match today,” said Williams, “She really played a match that was worth – she deserved to win. But these sort of matches are always so close.
“The first set I had a break. She played some great tennis. She had some luck and some great tennis. Also the second was just about trying to get a break or two, if possible. I wasn’t successful in the two, but one thankfully was enough,” she added.
Osaka reacted like a teenage fan when told of Williams’ praise, smiling without restraint, but she showed enough maturity to know where she had fallen short.
“Game-wise I feel like I’m, like, as good as anyone else. But I just feel like maybe mentality-wise there’s certain things to do in certain situations that I’m not that aware of,” she said.
(Reporting by Simon Evans; Editing by Mark Potter)