Naomi Osaka overpowers Jennifer Brady to win second Australian Open

  • Straight-sets success secures fourth major tennis crown
  • Osaka prevails 6-4, 6-3 at Melbourne Park
Naomi Osaka with the Daphne Akhurst Memorial Cup after her straight-sets win against Jennifer Brady, who was in her first slam final.
Naomi Osaka with the Daphne Akhurst Memorial Cup after her straight-sets win against Jennifer Brady, who was in her first slam final. Photograph: Darrian Traynor/Getty Images
Naomi Osaka with the Daphne Akhurst Memorial Cup after her straight-sets win against Jennifer Brady, who was in her first slam final. Photograph: Darrian Traynor/Getty Images

First published on Sat 20 Feb 2021 05.04 EST

In this unending pandemic and a scattered, disjointed year of tennis, there has been one consistent sight throughout: Naomi Osaka exhibiting her greatness under suffocating pressure. She is already a player whose profile is in the process of transcending her sport but, most importantly, she has the résumé to back it up and it keeps on growing.

In a tight, gripping contest when she struggled and then soared, Osaka became a four-time grand slam champion at 23 by beating Jennifer Brady 6-4, 6-3 to win her second Australian Open.

The achievements she has unlocked in the process are startling. Osaka is the first woman to win her first four grand slam finals of her career since Monica Seles in 1991. She is the seventh woman in the Open era to save match point en route to the Australian Open title after her fourth-round comeback against Garbiñe Muguruza from 3-5, 15-40, when she saved the first match point with a 119mph ace and hit zero unforced errors in the final 22 points.

Who knows if she even remembers what it feels like to lose – that is a sensation she has not experienced in more than a year, with 21 successive wins. Back then, two poor losses, including one to a 15-year-old Coco Gauff at this tournament, forced her to reevaluate her entire approach to the sport. Consider it a job well done. Osaka is now 33-2 in hard court grand slams since 2018, winning four of the past six titles.

These have already been such career-defining months for Osaka as she consolidated her spot at the top of tennis and learned the power of her voice away from it by speaking out against racism and police brutality.

Although she will rise only from No 3 to No 2 thanks to temporary alterations to the rankings during the pandemic, this can now be said with certainty: she is the best player in the world again.

In Osaka’s previous grand slam finals, she faced three multiple grand slam champions and wondered before the match how she would handle the pressure as favourite.

A view of fans in the arena during the final.
A view of fans in the arena during the final. Photograph: Asanka Brendon Ratnayake/Reuters

In the beginning, it was complicated. From 3-1 up, Osaka suddenly looked frail. She began to catch her toss in the wind and her first serves flew beyond the service line. It was her opponent who dictated more rallies. As Brady radiated energy and verve, thus began a series of crucial games she led but could not close.

At 3-3 on Osaka’s serve, Brady forced her to 15-30 before Osaka landed two consecutive service winners. Brady then created a break point at 4-4, 30-40 after a wonderful, flicked one-handed backhand lob winner. Osaka saved the break point with a bold cross-court forehand winner and then she did just enough to hold serve.

Brady led 40-15 at 4-5 on her serve before losing four points in a row to concede the set. And that was it. From haemorrhaging errors and falling 4-4 30-40 down, Osaka won five games in a row and never looked back.

The sequence reflected a common trait of the greatest champions: the opportunities they offer are limited and any opponent who fails to take advantage of them will pay.

Regardless of the result, reaching the final remains a remarkable achievement for Brady. While most of her rivals spent their quarantine period in Australia training each day as they calmly maintained their form and fitness, she did not see beyond the walls of her hotel room for two weeks. Yet she remained there on the final day. “I made my first grand slam final, so maybe if I wasn’t in quarantine I would have won,” she said, jokingly. “Maybe.”

With every Osaka success, it is hard not to return to the same thought: she has already achieved so much but it feels like she has not yet scratched the surface of her potential. She still needs time to become more comfortable on grass and clay courts. She has shown such a willingness to confront her weaknesses that she will inevitably embrace more net play and guile shots in time. She now holds four grand slam titles but only three WTA titles, which is unprecedented and quite preposterous. She is determined to rectify this with consistency throughout the year.

As she relaxed after her victory, sipping champagne and taking in the familiar feeling of ending a major on top, Osaka was asked what more she wants from tennis beyond trophies and success. “The biggest thing I want to achieve is – this is going to sound really odd, but hopefully I play long enough to play a girl that said I was once her favourite player,” she said.

Considering the way she has conducted her short career there is an army of them to come.

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