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.”
— #AusOpen (@AustralianOpen) February 20, 2021
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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