Everybody feels pressure on the day of a major final. And everybody’s pressure is different for different reasons. The kind of pressure that will be on Naomi Osaka when she faces Serena Williams in Saturday's US Open final is this: she needs to play the best she has ever played to beat Williams.
Yes, she did beat Serena the only time they ever played - this year in Miami when Williams was just getting started again after giving birth. But now, five months later, it is a completely different story. How will Osaka handle knowing she must play a close-to-perfect tennis match and do it while being in the final of a major for the first time? And let us remember that a Japanese player has never won a major before.
For Williams, the pressure she must handle is the difficulty of making history. The American looks to make it by equalling Margaret Court's all-time record of 24 Grand Slam singles titles. And while Osaka has to play her very best or better, Williams just needs to play her normal, run-of-the-mill tennis. She doesn't need to do anything extraordinary. When you know you can play your average tennis and that will probably still be good enough to win, that gives you a lot of confidence and takes a lot of the pressure off.
It's true that making history isn't easy. But when you get this close, I think it's actually easier playing in the final than it is getting there. Now that Williams is through to the title-match, I can imagine her saying to herself: “Yes, I've got this.”
Osaka looks as though she can handle the pressure - I was impressed by how she kept her nerve during her semifinal against Madison Keys, which was the first time she had been that deep into a major. But she looked as though she had been there forever many times before - she was cool, calm and collected. Never panicking and keeping her own tempo during the match, Osaka saved all 13 break points she faced. I can't remember ever seeing that before.
The tricky thing about playing Williams is that you need to be strong enough to handle the power and pace, and tall enough to have the reach to get to balls and get on top of the kicking second serve. But you also need to be quick enough to chase down shots and neutralise the heavy balls coming at you. And I think Osaka has that combination.
I always thought she was 5ft 7in, but I was told she was 5ft 11in, and then I stood next to her in the locker-room the other day and I was looking up. She is that tall! Hopefully she’ll be able to handle Williams' power. If she can, it could be a real slugfest on Saturday.
Osaka needs to pick her spots on her serve and really mix things up. She needs pace, spin and placement. I expect she's going to have a very specific game-plan, as her coach is Sascha Bajin, who worked with Williams for so many years. He knows Williams' game inside out, and also Williams' mentality; that's going to be great information for Osaka. So Osaka's going to have a proper gameplan - it's just going to be a matter of whether she can execute it. And there is the possibility that despite Osaka executing it very well, Williams might still win - she is that good and is playing as well and as solidly as she ever has.
While Osaka beat Williams in Miami in March, that was just after Williams had returned from maternity leave. Williams is a much better and fitter player now. And while Osaka will have a plan, Williams always brings an extra surprise, like she did in her semifinal by being very aggressive and coming to the net a lot more than in her previous matches. I'm sure Williams will also have a specific gameplan for playing Osaka; she will know exactly what she wants to do.
Playing against your idol can be exciting, and can help you to produce your best tennis. Osaka has spoken of her admiration for Williams, and how playing her idol in a Grand Slam final is a dream. She has been very open about that. Osaka has modelled everything on Williams. Not just her game and how she plays, but also how she prepares, and that has worked beautifully so far. I'm not certain that would work for everybody, but it has worked for her.
I remember when Billie Jean King and Court were my heroes. When I played them, I was so excited to be on the court with them. I obviously respected them, but I wasn't scared. I was so excited that I had the opportunity to show them how well I could play. For me, it was always a big plus when I faced them as I always played my best tennis. That's what Osaka did against Williams in Miami, and maybe she can do that again in the US Open final.
Osaka is obviously a work in progress and is improving in front of our eyes; who knows how much better she will become. Right now, we don't know if Osaka's very best is good enough against Williams this time around. On Saturday, we will find out. Either way, history will be made.