Naomi Osaka has never lost a Grand Slam after making the quarterfinals, and if all goes to plan in Melbourne, she’ll be savoring a fourth major triumph before her 24th birthday. But first she’ll have to get past Serena Williams.

Osaka reached the Australian Open semis with a clinical win over Hsieh Su-wei on Tuesday, but the tournament hasn’t all been a walk in the park for the Japanese star.

First came a scare over a mystery injury that led Osaka to withdraw from a warm-up event before the tourney. Her dream that she would lose her second-round match at the Open never came to pass, but the one that followed that was a bit of a nightmare: Osaka had to battle back from the brink after saving two match points versus Garbine Muguruza.

Osaka looks forward to her next matchup | WIDE WORLD OF SPORTS
Osaka looks forward to her next matchup | WIDE WORLD OF SPORTS

Now comes a semifinal against Williams, Osaka’s childhood heroine, and also one of the inspirations she cited for her recent surprise decision to become part-owner of women’s soccer team North Carolina Courage.

Much has changed since Osaka clinched her first Grand Slam title against Williams in a hail of boos in 2018, The New York Times notes. Last year was huge for the world No. 3: Osaka found her voice and the self-possession to speak up when and how she saw fit, a massive leap for the global superstar.

Surely 2021 can’t top that, can it? This week could be an indicator as to whether it might. There’s also the delayed 2020 Tokyo Games to come, pandemic permitting. Osaka has already committed to participating if it does, even if it means enduring another miserable spell in quarantine beforehand.