Naomi Osaka powered her way to a second Australian Open title with a comprehensive straight sets victory over grand slam final debutante Jennifer Brady.
The match had all the makings of an epic final during a tight first set, but Osaka’s class and experience ultimately proved too much as she raced to a 6-4 6-3 victory in just under an hour and a half.
It was the first grand slam final with a significant crowd since last year’s Australian Open and with both players producing shots of the highest quality – in particular during the first set – those lucky enough to bag a ticket were treated to a spectacle.
Victory gives Osaka her fourth grand slam title at the age of only 23 and she looks set to be a dominant force in women’s tennis for some time to come.
“Firstly I want to congratulate Jennifer, we played in the semis of the US Open, so a couple of months ago, and I told anyone that would listen that you were going to be a problem – and I was right!” Osaka said in her on-court interview.
“I want to thank my team, I’ve been with them too long. We’ve been through quarantine together and for me they’re like my family, they’re with me through training, matches, nervous talks before my matches, I’m really appreciative of them, so this one’s for you.
“I want to thank you guys [the fans], thank you for coming and watching … I didn’t play my last grand slam [the US Open] with fans so just to have this energy it really means a lot, thanks so much for coming. Thank you for opening your hearts and your arms towards us and for sure I feel like playing a grand slam right now is a super-privilege … so thank you for this opportunity.”
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The pair exchanged some ferocious rallies in the opening stages, with Brady returning Osaka’s booming ground strokes with interest. The American was showing none of the nerves that appeared to hinder her at times during Thursday’s semifinal against Karolina Muchova and looked immediately at home in her maiden grand slam final.
After each breaking serve early on, Osaka and Brady went toe to toe for the remainder of the opening set and it was Brady who looked to have ultimately got the upper hand.
One of the best rallies of the final so far ended with the American chasing down a drop ball and playing a wonderful lob over Osaka’s head to earn break point, and potentially the chance to serve for the opening set.
The exchange brought the Aussie crowd to its feet and offered a welcome reminder as to just how badly fans have been missed at tennis’ grand slams over the past year.
Osaka’s serve had been misfiring in her opening service games, but she then found a huge first serve when it mattered to save break point and subsequently close out the game.
It proved to be the crucial moment of not only the opening set, but the whole final. Osaka broke Brady’s serve in the following game, thanks largely to two fortuitous bounces, to close out the set and change the momentum of the final entirely.
Osaka had clearly found her groove and was now picking off Brady’s ground stokes at will, with the American now missing shots she was making with ease in the first set.
The Japanese world No. 3 raced out into a 4-0 lead – winning six games in a row from 4-4 in the first set – to establish what would prove to be an unassailable lead.
To Brady’s credit, many players could have crumbled at this stage, but she showed admirable resilience to break Osaka’s serve and hold her own game to love to put Osaka on the back foot. With the match looking like it would be something of an anti-climax just moments earlier, Brady ensured the final finished with a flourish.
In the end, however, that early second-set deficit proved too big of a mountain to climb as Osaka composed herself to emphatically dispatch her opponent.