Sunday, March 7, 2021

Naomi Osaka wins fourth major and second Australian Open title with dominant display in Melbourne

Naomi Osaka lived up to her favourite billing at the opening grand slam of the season as she secured a fourth grand slam title and second Australian Open trophy.

Facing first-time finalist in American Jennifer Brady, the Japanese star reclaimed the title she won two years ago with a solid 6-4, 6-3 victory.

It maintained her 100 per cent record at the business end of grand slams, increasing her record to 12-0 after progressing beyond the fourth round. She is also the first woman since Monica Seles in the early 1990s to win her first four major finals.

The 23-year-old moves up to world No 2 following her latest victory, behind Australia’s Ashleigh Barty, but there is no doubt as to who is the dominant force in women’s tennis right now – especially on hard courts.

She has now won two majors on the blue courts at Melbourne Park to match the two notched up at Flushing Meadows. Her straight sets win this morning also extended her winning run to 21 matches, stretching back to last February.

Brady, who failed to qualify for the Australian Open two years ago, recovered from being broken in the fourth game to hit back and level at  3-3 in the first set.

The next four games were the crunch moments of the match as the pair battled for supremacy in this heavy-hitting contest.

Brady withstood pressure to hold for 4-4 but Osaka did the same in the next game and two poor forehands from Brady – the first wildly overhit and the second into the net from inside the service box – gave up the first set.

It was a huge blow for Brady, who had settled into the match well and was enjoying the occasion. That feeling did not last as Osaka cruised into a 4-0 lead in the second set.

Brady composed herself well, firing up her big forehand once more to pull two games back, and threatened to get back into the match.

But Osaka has proved herself a player more than able to handle herself at the biggest occasions and she calmly served out the match and championship to love.

10:31am

‘Playing a grand slam is a privilege right now’

Osaka hitting the right spot with her presentation speech:

“I really want to thank my team – this one is for you. “Lastly but not least, thankyou to you guys. Thank you for coming and watching. To have this energy really means a lot. Thank you so much. “Thank you for opening your hearts and arms towards us. I feel like playing a Grand Slam right now is a privilege, and thank you for this opportunity.”

10:23am

Osaka steps up to receive the trophy

..and takes to the microphone

“Hello everyone. Firstly I want to congratulate (and then looks to Brady and asks if she prefers Jenny or Jennifer. ‘Jenny’ is the reply).
She continues: “I’d like to congratulate Jennifer”

10:19am

Brady speaks at trophy presentation

“What she’s (Osaka) doing for the game is amazing. I hope young girls at home are watching and are inspired by what she’s doing. “

 

10:16am

Joining illustrious company

Only 15 women in the open era have achieved four grand slam titles, with Serena Williams (23), Venus Williams (seven) and Kim Clijsters (four) the three active players on that list. Incredible effort.

 

10:10am

A player for the big occasion

With her second victory in Melbourne, Osaka, at just 23-years-old, becomes the first player since Monica Seles in the early 1990s to win her first four grand slam finals.

She really is the Queen of the hardcourts with two majors a piece at the Aussie Open and at Flushing Meadows.

The focus will now turn to whether she can replicate that dominance onto the clay of the French Open and Wimbledon grass.

10:04am

Osaka 6-4, 6-3 Brady* (*denotes next server)

No drama on Osaka’s serve now as she eases to three championship points. She only needs one as Brady strikes a first serve long. GAME, SET AND MATCH: OSAKA WINS FOURTH GRAND SLAM WITH 6-4, 6-3 WIN OVER BRADY

10:02am

Osaka* 6-4, 5-3 Brady (*denotes next server)

Osaka pummels a powerful backhand deep into the corner to put the pressure on Brady at 0-15, but the American responds with her own groundstroke winner, spinning a forehand out of Osaka’s reach.

The third seed a buzz of energy and enthusiasm now, reeling her opponent in at 30-all. She offers her rival a tap on the racket as Brady hits a brilliant winner into the corner for game point. But Osaka slaps a fiery service return back and lets out another c’mon to signal her intent. She doesn’t want to serve for the championship. But serve for it she must, as Brady shuts the door after holding from deuce.

9:57am

Osaka 6-4, 5-2 Brady* (*denotes next server)

Calm as you like Osaka responds with a couple of booming first serves for 30-0. But when Brady gets into a baseline exchange, the American is now more than holding her own from the back and matching her rival groundstroke for groundstroke.

Pinned behind the baseline during the next point, Brady returns long for 40-15 but a forehand error from Osaka which clips the tape and lands well wide keeps Brady hanging around. The American can’t reel her back to deuce, over-egging a forehand well wide which annoys the 22nd seed. Osaka one game from the championship now.

9:52am

Osaka* 6-4, 4-2 Brady (*denotes next server)

Superb fight from Brady now. She’s got a spring in her step as she dances around the court, picking up anything short and buzzing around the baseline. It’s paying off as she races to 40-0 and then holds to love.

9:50am

Osaka 6-4, 4-1 Brady* (*denotes next server)

Dominant from Osaka now as a brilliant backhand cross-court winner edges her to another game point at 40-30. But Brady stays alive, whipping a tremendous forehand cross-court to draw Osaka in at deuce. Brady opting to go for broke now, swinging from the hip and it’s paying off. Break point for the American, but she slices into the tramlines after solid defensive play from Osaka. The groans ring round Rod Laver Arena, the fans want a contest this set.

It’s stunning play from both during the next rally, Brady just forcing Osaka out wide. A second break point now, and this time she makes it count when Osaka pushes into the middle. Fantastic grit and resolve. BRADY BREAKS. 

9:44am

Osaka* 6-4, 4-0 Brady (*denotes next server)

Osaka stepping into anything short from Brady and keeping the pressure on the American. This set – and match – is running away from the 22nd seed fast. Too many errors from the backhand now as Osaka moves to two break points. Another unforced error, this time on the forehand wing hands the 2019 champion another break. Ouch. OSAKA BREAKS TO WIN SIXTH GAME IN A ROW

9:40am

Osaka 6-4, 3-0 Brady* (*denotes next server)

Brady staring into her strings now as Osaka keeps her foot on the gas by racing to three game points. The third seed throws in a second double of the match to allow Brady a free point and the American catches her rival cold on the baseline with some deep hitting to hang around. Osaka won’t be reeled in, and an ace down the T gets her over the line and she consolidates the break.

Osaka and Brady do battle on Rod Laver Arena
Osaka and Brady do battle on Rod Laver Arena CREDIT: REUTERS

 

9:36am

Osaka* 6-4, 2-0 Brady (*denotes next server)

Osaka turning the screw this game with a couple of sweet backhands to move to two break points at 15-40.

Brady is in trouble here and strikes long with a forehand to hand Osaka an early break. OSAKA BREAKS.

9:35am

Osaka 6-4, 1-0 Brady* (*denotes next server)

Solid start to the second set for Osaka with a comfortable hold.

 

9:29am

Osaka* 6-4 Brady (*denotes next server)

Brady well placed at 40-15 before Osaka catches the American with a forehand loaded with topspin that skids off the surface.

The three-time grand slam champion takes advantage of a drop in level from Brady, reeling her in at deuce and then setting up set point with a deep return into the corner which Brady sends long.

Osaka is all over a first serve but Brady steps in to dispatch a volley and strikes into the middle. OSAKA BREAKS TO WIN FIRST SET.

9:23am

Osaka 5-4 Brady* (*denotes next server)

Brady firing now and causing Osaka problems on her own serve to steal a march at 0-30. Osaka being troubled by her first serve, but the American misses a chance with a slower second serve from the Japanese as she strikes long.

Osaka thinks she’s done enough to win the next point, retrieving a drop shot with a dinked reply, but Brady chases down the ball and executes a sweet, sweet lob. The standard of play has been well and truly turned up a notch.

At deuce, Brady goes for broke with a heavy forehand but strikes into the middle. Osaka takes a big intake of breath as she shapes to send down her next serve. But she still can’t deliver a first serve. Thankfully her forehand is still firing and she edges in front again.

9:19am

Osaka* 4-4 Brady (*denotes next server)

First C’mon of the evening from Osaka as she pins Brady into the corner, the American retrieves with a deep backhand before Osaka drills a forehand into the opposite side. It gets a first point on the board for the third seed, but it gives her the energy and lift she’s been lacking in recent games.

At 30-all, Brady slaps a backhand into the middle. Osaka shakes her fist as she squats and prepares to receive at break point. She can’t capitalise as Brady draws an error from her rival. The American fighting hard to get over the line this game. A powerful forehand takes her closer to the line, before finally a timely first serve down the middle is too good for Osaka. She eventually holds after a game lasting nearly five minutes.

9:12am

Osaka 4-3 Brady* (*denotes next server)

Osaka recovers from 15-30 down to turn the game in her favour with a stunning ace out wide to set up game point.

The Japanese works her opponent during the next rally, engineering the space and injecting speed on to a forehand to secure the hold. Brady retreats to her chair muttering to herself about decisions she made during that game. Osaka’s level back on the up again.

9:08am

Osaka* 3-3 Brady (*denotes next server)

Brady swinging much more freely now, her shoulders straightened and full of confidence. After dropping her last service game, she holds to love. Great response.

9:05am

Osaka 3-2 Brady* (*denotes next server)

Osaka drops a couple of points on her serve for 30-all and then deuce before she sends down her first double of the match and Brady has her first break point. It’s an error-strewn game that has come out of nowhere. Brady shows good footwork and speed on the baseline to work her rival and force Osaka to dump a backhand into the middle. BRADY BREAKS STRAIGHT BACK. 

Osaka makes a return during the first set
Osaka makes a return during the first set CREDIT: REUTERS

 

9:00am

Osaka* 3-1 Brady (*denotes next server)

Early opening here on the Brady serve at 0-30. The American struggling to get a first serve in and Osaka is putting pressure on the 22nd’s backhand side and it’s not standing up to the task.

Three break points for the former world No 1. She makes an early and easy break when Brady goes big on a second serve, and sends long for another double. OSAKA BREAKS.

8:57am

Osaka 2-1 Brady* (*denotes next server)

Powerful serving again from Osaka, mixing up first serves down the T, to kicked body serves. She holds to 15, the only point she’s dropped on serve so far this final.

8:54am

Osaka* 1-1 Brady (*denotes next server)

Brady gets a first point on the board this final when Osaka sends a return long. That will help ease the butterflies in her stomach. The American has an incredibly high ball toss, but it’s generating enough speed to keep Osaka pinned back. At 40-0, the 22nd seed sends down a double fault and then misses on her next first serve. And from a strong position, a couple of loose backhands, reels Osaka in at deuce.

Osaka keeps pushing and striking long during the next rally, but sends one forehand zipping over the baseline. Brady finally strings two points together to get a first game on the board, but it was tricky going in the end.

8:48am

Osaka 1-0 Brady* (*denotes next server)

The wind is really gusting out there for the start of Osaka’s opening service game. But it’s a commanding start. A couple of aces along the way to a love hold.

8:41am

Here come the players

Brady is marching through the tunnel, passing the names of each and every champion on the walls as she makes her way to the entrance and then heads into the lights on Rod Laver Arena.

Osaka follows wearing mask and chunky headphones waving to the fans. They meet at the net for the standard photographers, Brady with a big beaming smile, Osaka coolness personified. Their skirts are flapping in the heavy breeze out there this evening.

Brady walks out on to Rod Laver Arena
Brady walks out on to Rod Laver Arena CREDIT: GETTY IMAGES

 

8:31am

Another three-setter on the cards?

If recent history is anything to go by, we could be in store for a three-set final this morning. Only one of the last five showpieces in the women’s singles at Melbourne Park has been done and dusted in straight sets. That was back in 2017 when a then pregnant Serena beat sister Venus Williams for the last of her 23 major titles.

Winning the opening set could be key too. The winner of the opening set in three of those four occasions went on to lift the trophy (Angelique Kerber in 2016, Caroline Wozniacki two years later, and then Osaka in 2019).

 

8:15am

Osaka is like facing ‘human equivalent of a F1 car’

The former world No 1’s physical trainer Yutaka Nakamura has been talking up the fitness of his client to our tennis correspondent Simon Briggs ahead of today’s final.

“Naomi is an unbelievable athlete. She is explosive, agile, and that’s why I compare her to a Formula One car. People say that her 120mph serve and her forehand are her weapons, but I think her speed can be a weapon too.

“I worked with Maria Sharapova for eight years. Maria built her legacy on the court. But with Naomi, it’s just another level. As an athlete but also as an activist, she has a different voice and she has a different vibe.”

7:49am

Can Brady deny Osaka fourth major title?

So much has changed in the world over the last 12 months, but some things remain the same. Like trying to predict the finalists of a women’s singles grand slam.

Just as Sofia Kenin upset the odds with an unlikely run to the Australian Open final and maiden grand slam last year, today sees another major final virgin flying the Stars and Stripes flag in the form of Jennifer Brady.

The American and her camp might argue it is merely a stepping stone in the 25-year-old’s fledgling career after reaching the US Open semi-finals last September. Yet prior to that run to the last four, today’s 22nd seed’s best run at a major was back in 2017 when Brady reached the fourth round of the Aussie and US Open.

Returning to her run at Flushing Meadows last year, it was today’s opponent who stopped her dream run. But Brady put up a heroic fight, only losing the opening set on a tiebreak and taking the former world No 1 to three sets before losing 6-3 in the decider.

Osaka went on to win her third grand slam in New York, and the Japanese has looked in impenetrable form this fortnight in Melbourne and looks more than mature and confident with each major that passes.

While Brady is yet to come up against a player seeded higher than herself this fortnight, third seed Osaka crushed a free-moving and 23-grand slam champion in Serena Williams in the semi-finals and has only dropped one set this tournament to last year’s finalist Garbine Muguruza.

Osaka also has an unblemished record at the business ends of slams, with an 11-0 record when passing the fourth round. It is a record that appears unlikely to be blotted today by Brady, with nerves and adrenaline sure to be difficult emotions and issues to contend with on Rod Laver Arena.

Brady would be best placed ignoring Osaka’s stunning form, and look back at what Kenin achieved last year when the underdog emerged from the shadows to defeat the experienced favourite.

Certainly that’s harder said than done, especially when a certain player like Osaka is staring back at you across the net.

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