Naomi Osaka proved she is the undisputed best hard court player in the women’s game Saturday night in Melbourne, easing past Jennifer Brady 6-4, 6-3 to win her second Australian Open title and fourth Grand Slam.
“I didn’t play my last Grand Slam with fans so just to have this energy it means a lot,” Osaka told the crowd on court.
“Thank you so much for coming. I feel like playing a Grand Slam is a super privilege right now and it’s something I won’t take for granted. Thank you for this opportunity.”
The tournament favorite coming in, Osaka dropped just one set (though she had to save two match points in her fourth round win over Garbine Muguruza), and throttled to power of Serena Williams and Brady in back-to-back matches.
Osaka jumped out early on Brady going up 3-1 thanks to a double fault from the former UCLA Bruin.
Brady managed to break right back, but couldn’t hold it together serving to stay in the set at 4-5 as three straight errors gave Osaka the first set.
Osaka ran out to 4-0 in a blink and then served it out at love for her 21st straight match win.
“I feel like I’m at the point now where it’s something that I’ve worked for,” Osaka said. “Like, people wouldn’t expect things from me if I hadn’t done things prior. If that makes sense.
“I feel like no one has expected things of me when I was younger, and now that I have kind of climbed up the ranks, of course there’s going to be more pressures, but I feel like also that’s motivation, because I also want to do better for myself, as well.”
Osaka keeps her record perfect once she reaches a Grand Slam quarterfinal, now 12-0. She’s also won her first four Grand Slam finals, a feat only matched by Monica Seles and Roger Federer.
“Well, my reaction is that that’s very amazing company,” Osaka said. “I hope that I can, have, like, one grain of how their career has unfolded. But, you can only wish and you can only just keep going down your own path. But, yeah, it’s definitely something crazy to hear.”
Brady acknowledged Osaka’s clutch play.
“I don’t think there is something that’s intangible about her,” Brady said. “She’s human, like the rest of us in this room. She’s just, you know, brings out her best in the big moments.
“She knows what she’s doing out there. She’s confident in herself, her game, her team.”
The 25-year-old Brady made quite a remarkable rise from a year ago when she entered the Australian Open ranking No. 49. She’ll leave this year at No. 13 knowing the her last two losses in hard court Slams came to the eventual champion Osaka.
“Not the way that I wanted it,” said Brady. “But I would say it was exciting to be out there. I enjoyed every single minute playing in front of fans in my first Grand Slam final, and I hope there are many more.
“I think I belong at this level,” she added. “I think winning a Grand Slam is totally achievable. It’s within reach.
“Playing out there, obviously I was nervous, didn’t go my way, but at the same time coming off court, I was, like, ‘OK, that feels a little bit normal.’ It felt different than what I was expecting it to feel like. If you were to ask me maybe a year ago, I wouldn’t think it’s possible, or it would feel like it’s going to Mars.”
Even more amazing was the fact that Brady was under the “hard quarantine” restriction, forbidding her from leave her room for 14 days upon arrival in Australia.
“This week or these couple weeks coming in here and making the finals here, after making the semis at US Open, I think just proves to myself that it’s totally achievable week in, week out,” Brady went on.
“There may be great weeks, there may be bad weeks, but I think that if I approach every single one the same, I think there is going to be a lot more good weeks than bad weeks.”
With the ranking systems returning to their normal drop schedule next month, it’s expected Osaka will overtake Ash Barty and return to No. 1 following the French Open. Osaka, though, has never been past the third round in Paris or at Wimbledon.
But for now, she’s the Queen of the Hard Courts.
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