Naomi Osaka wins Australian Open for fourth Grand Slam title

Naomi Osaka
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Naomi Osaka won the Australian Open for her fourth Grand Slam singles title in as many finals, dispatching American Jennifer Brady 6-4, 6-3 to cement her statuses as the world’s best hard-court player and the most clutch player in today’s game.

Tangibly, she’s achieved much of what she set out to do in tennis. And is still just 23 years old.

“The biggest thing [remaining] that I want to achieve is — this is going to sound really odd, but hopefully I play long enough to play a girl that said that I was once her favorite player,” Osaka said.

Osaka, who has won half of the last eight majors she’s entered, became the third player to win their first four major finals in the Open Era after Monica Seles and Roger Federer.

She became the ninth woman in the Open Era to win at least one major in four consecutive years, joining these names: King, Goolagong, Evert, Navratilova, Graf, Seles, Henin and Williams.

“I feel like Naomi Osaka is starting to form an aura around her now of almost invincibility,” on hard courts, Chris Evert said on ESPN. “Something we’ve seen for 20, 25 years with Serena.”

Osaka has won all 21 of her matches since tennis’ pandemic return last summer — and moved to 12-0 in quarterfinals, semifinals and finals in her career at majors  — in sweeping Brady in a rematch of their quality 2020 U.S. Open semifinal.

Brady, a strong server, was broken in her second service game while struggling to get her first serve in. Though the former UCLA Bruin broke right back, she netted a forehand unforced error on break point to hand Osaka the opening set.

Osaka then won the first four games of the second set en route to her second Australian Open title.

“The last time I won here I was kind of playing off anger, in a way. Just because I felt like I wanted to stamp my place on the tour,” she said of her 2019 title. “This time around I’m more at peace with where I am, and I’m honestly just happy to be playing a Grand Slam in a pandemic.”

The only active women with more major titles — Serena Williams (23) and Venus Williams (7).

“I have this mentality that people don’t remember the runners-up,” Osaka said after sweeping Serena by 6-3, 6-4 in the semifinals. “You might, but the winner’s name is the one that’s engraved. I think I fight the hardest in the finals. I think that’s where you sort of set yourself apart.”

The next challenge: find success on clay or grass courts. Osaka has never been past the third round of the French Open or Wimbledon, the next two majors.

“I have to get comfortable on those surfaces,” she said. “I didn’t play juniors, so I didn’t grow up playing on grass at all. So I honestly think I’d have better luck on clay, because I think [in 2019] I didn’t play bad at all [reaching two quarterfinals and a semifinal in pre-French Open events].”

Brady, a 25-year-old who was never the No. 1 singles player in two seasons at UCLA, continued a breakthrough since the pandemic return.

She won her first WTA tournament title last summer, then made it past the fourth round of a major for the first time in reaching the U.S. Open semifinals.

She did one better in Melbourne as, reportedly, the only one of more than 50 singles players forced into hard quarantine for two weeks in January to make it past the third round. She trained for the Grand Slam tournament by hitting a ball against her mattress.

“I think I belong at this level. I think winning a Grand Slam is totally achievable,” said Brady, who was ranked 125th at the end of 2019, 45th at the start of the pandemic and is now up to a career-high ranking of 13. “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.”

Brady is now in comfortable position to qualify for the U.S. Olympic team of four singles players (behind Serena Williams and Sofia Kenin) that will come from the WTA rankings after the French Open in June.

The Australian Open finishes Sunday with the men’s final between record eight-time champion Novak Djokovic and No. 4 seed Daniil Medvedev.

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Chloe Kim, Elana Meyers Taylor among Olympians to join presidential sports council

Elana Meyers Taylor, President Joe Biden

Chloe Kim and Elana Meyers Taylor are among the Olympic and Paralympic medalists set to join the President’s Council on Sports, Fitness, & Nutrition.

President Joe Biden intends to appoint the snowboarder Kim, bobsledder Meyers Taylor, retired Olympic medalists Chaunté Lowe (track and field) and Tamika Catchings (basketball) and Paralympic medalist Melissa Stockwell (triathlon) to the council, among other athletes and people in the health and fitness fields, it was announced Friday.

Stephen and Ayesha Curry are also on the list.

The council “aims to promote healthy, accessible eating and physical activity for all Americans, regardless of background or ability.”

Last year, Biden appointed basketball gold medalist Elena Delle Donne a co-chair of the council.

Kim, the two-time reigning Olympic halfpipe champion, sat out this past season but is expected to return to competition for a third Olympic run in 2026.

Meyers Taylor, the most decorated U.S. Olympic bobsledder in history with medals in all five of her Olympic events, sat out this past season due to pregnancy. She took her first bobsled run in 13 months this past week in Lake Placid, New York.

There is a long history of Olympians and Paralympians serving on the council, which was created in 1956.

In 2017, Barack Obama appointed medalists including gymnast Gabby Douglas, soccer player Carli Lloyd and fencer Ibtihaj Muhammad.

Others to previously be on the council include sprinter Allyson Felix, figure skater Michelle Kwan and swimmer and triathlete Brad Snyder.

Members serve for two years and can be reappointed.

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Kaori Sakamoto wins figure skating worlds; top American places fourth


Kaori Sakamoto overcame a late error in her free skate to become the first Japanese figure skater to win back-to-back world titles and the oldest women’s world champion since 2014.

Sakamoto, 22, totaled 224.61 points on home ice in Saitama to prevail by 3.67 over Lee Hae-In of South Korea in the closest women’s finish at worlds since 2011.

Belgium’s Loena Hendrickx took bronze, edging 16-year-old American Isabeau Levito for a medal by 2.77 points.

Sakamoto is the oldest women’s singles world champion since Mao Asada (2014), who is now the only Japanese skater with more world titles than Sakamoto.

She appeared en route to an easier victory until singling a planned triple flip late in her free skate, which put the gold in doubt. She can be thankful for pulling off the second jump of that planned combination — a triple toe loop — and her 5.62-point lead from Wednesday’s short program.

“I feel so pathetic and thought, what was all that hard work I put into my training?” Sakamoto said of her mistake, according to the International Skating Union (ISU). “But I was able to refocus and do my best till the end.

“Because I have this feeling of regret at the biggest event of the season, I want to make sure I don’t have this feeling next season. So I want to practice even harder, and I want to make sure to do clean, perfect performances at every competition.”

Lee, who had the top free skate, became the second South Korean to win a world medal in any discipline after six-time medalist Yuna Kim.

Hendrickx followed her silver from last year, when she became the first Belgian women’s singles skater to win a world medal.

FIGURE SKATING WORLDS: Results | Broadcast Schedule

Levito, last year’s world junior champion, had a chance to become the youngest senior world medalist since 2014.

After a solid short program, she fell on her opening triple Lutz in the free skate and left points on the table by performing two jump combinations rather than three. The Lutz was planned to be the first half of a combination with a triple loop.

“I am severely disappointed because I’ve been nailing my Lutz-loop for a really long time, and this is the first time I’ve messed it up in a while, and of course it had to be when it actually counted,” Levito said, according to the ISU. “But I’m pretty happy with myself for just trying to move past it and focusing on making the most out of the rest of the program.”

Levito entered worlds ranked fourth in the field by best score this season. She matched the best finish for a U.S. woman in her senior global championships debut (Olympics and worlds) since Tonya Harding and Nancy Kerrigan took silver and bronze at the 1991 Worlds. Sasha Cohen, to whom Levito is often compared, also placed fourth in her Olympic and world debuts in 2002.

“I feel very proud for myself and grateful for my coaching team for helping me get this far so far in my skating career, and I’m just very proud to be where I am,” Levito said on USA Network.

American Amber Glenn was 12th in her world debut. Two-time U.S. champion Bradie Tennell was 15th. They had been 10th and eighth, respectively, in the short program.

The U.S. qualified two women’s spots for next year’s worlds rather than the maximum three because the top two Americans’ results added up to more than 13 (Levito’s fourth plus Glenn’s 12th equaled 16). The U.S. was in position to qualify three spots after the short program.

Glenn said after the short program that she had a very difficult two weeks before worlds, including “out-of-nowhere accidents and coincidences that could have prevented me from being here,” and boot problems that affected her triple Axel. She attempted a triple Axel in the free skate, spinning out of an under-rotated, two-footed landing.

Tennell, who went 19 months between competitions due to foot and ankle injuries in 2021 and 2022, had several jumping errors in the free skate.

“This season has been like one thing after another,” said the 25-year-old Tennell, who plans to compete through the 2026 Winter Games. “I’m really excited to get back and work on some stuff for the new season.”

Earlier, Americans Madison Chock and Evan Bates topped the rhythm dance, starting their bid for a first world title in their 12th season together and after three prior world silver or bronze medals.

“We skated as best we possibly could today,” Bates said, according to the ISU, after they tallied the world’s top score this season.

Meryl Davis and Charlie White are the lone U.S. ice dancers to win a world title, doing so in 2011 and 2013.

Worlds continue Friday night (U.S. time) with the free dance, followed Saturday morning with the men’s free skate, live on Peacock and USA Network.

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