We have a new Australian Open champion and a new World No. 1 on the WTA, her name is Naomi Osaka. The 21-year-old Osaka showed the poise of a veteran to outlast Petra Kvitova 7-6(2), 5-7, 6-4 to claim her second straight Grand Slam title Saturday night in Melbourne on Rod Laver Court.
“For me, I feel like it hasn’t really sunk in,” Osaka said. “Maybe in the next tournament I play, if I see the No. 1 next to my name, I’ll feel something. But for now, I’m more happy that I won this trophy.”
As advertised, early on in this first-time meeting the match was a slugfest with both players powering serves and forehands. Osaka, though, was finding the going more difficult reading the lefty Kvitova’s serve while the Czech was making progress in her return games.
Eventually, Kvitova would get chances but she couldn’t convert break point after break point. The errors were piling up as were the missed opportunities. Zero-for-5 on break points would spell Kvitova’s doom in the ensuing first set breaker as Osaka grabbed an early mini-break and coasted to a one set lead.
It was a lead that in the past meant success for the young star. Osaka had won 59 straight matches after winning the first set. Would the trend continue?
With Kvitova wavering and sluggish, Osaka seized control early in the second and about 90 minutes into the affair, she appeared to have the championship title all but wrapped up.
Kvitova was serving at 3-5 down three match points at 0-40. It should have been over right there, but somehow the 2-time Wimbledon champion sprung back to life and won 9 of the next 10 points to hold, break and level; then kept the momentum taking the second set and going up 1-0 in the third.
It was one of the most remarkable turnarounds ever in a Slam final and it left the Japanese and the crowd simply stunned.
But Osaka settled down, held easily and then began to against re-assert herself from the baseline. She started to get a better read on Kvitova’s serve and once again was finding the mark on her own – she eventually out-aced Kvitova just like she did her countrywoman Karolina Pliskova.
She broke Kvitova and forced the 28-year-old to dig herself out of yet another 0-40 hold at 2-4. This time, Osaka calmly and coolly served out, like it was just another match.
“I just thought to myself that this is my second time playing a final,” said Osaka. “I can’t really act entitled. To be playing against one of the best players in the world, to lose a set, suddenly think that I’m so much better than her that that isn’t a possibility.”
The loss left to rue those missed chances.
“It’s painful, for sure. I don’t know how long will take me to get over it,” Kvitova said. “When I look back, I did have my chances in the first set when I had 40-Love on her serve. Did have few breakpoints.
I don’t think I played something really badly, but I just think I should maybe go a little bit more aggressive one or two rallies. I really fight back in the second set. I’m proud of myself in that case. And, yeah, the third set was just one break. That’s how the tennis is. It’s the final. I think you just will get few chances. When you don’t make it and you make it and you lose. And I think that also was the case today.”
Osaka becomes the first Asian player to ascend to the No. 1 ranking. And all totaled, she now has won 14 straight matches in Grand Slams which equals two titles. A year ago in Melbourne she ranked No. 72 and had yet to win a single title on the WTA Tour.
She also becomes the first player to win consecutive Slams since Serena Williams in 2015, and the first player to back up her first Slam title at the very next Slam since Jennifer Capriati won the Australian and French in 2001.
Kvitova, who has made an incredible comeback from a December 2016 hand injury suffered during a home invasion, has plenty to be proud of after all she has been through.
“It’s hurting a lot today,” Kvitova said. “I wanted to win and have the trophy. But I think I already won two years ago. So for me, it’s amazing. I think I still don’t really realize that I played the final.
“I’ve been through many, many things, not really great ones. As I said on the court, I didn’t know if I going to hold the racquet again. I’m holding it, so that’s good.
“Still few things which I can improve, and we’ll do it. So it’s not the end. Yeah, I be back for sure.”
But the night belonged to Osaka.
“Like, I had dreams that I would win this tournament, you know?” Osaka said. “Every time I have a dream, somehow I accomplish it, I still feel like it’s a very strange moment. Like, I feel like I’m living right now, but it’s not necessarily real, if that makes sense.”
It makes sense. Naomi Osaka is on top of the world.
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