Second slam title signals Osaka in line to rule tennis
In a riveting Australian Open women’s final Saturday, Petra Kvitova tried unsuccessfully to shake Naomi Osaka. Kvitova earned five break points in the first set, which she could not convert, and saved three championship points in the second, which she ultimately was unable to capitalize on.
Osaka refused to fade away. Later, as the Rod Laver Arena crowd celebrated Osaka’s 7-6 (2), 5-7, 6-4 victory, Kvitova looked around to congratulate her opponent – and couldn’t find her anywhere.
“Well done, Naomi,” Kvitova said, craning her neck to look behind her. “Where are you?”
Osaka, 21, who was seeded fourth, has a serve that demands attention; she recorded nine aces in the final to finish the tournament with 59, which was 22 more than the next-highest woman. Her groundstrokes are hypnotizing and, against Kvitova, who was seeded eighth, her tenacity and focus were absorbing.
Every little thing Osaka does on the court is mesmerizing, but take the racket out of her hand and she visibly shrinks from the spotlight. Born in Japan and raised in the United States by a Japanese mother and a Haitian father, she was asked in an interview on Australian television if she was ready to become the face of the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo.
“Yikes,” she said, wincing. “Hopefully for their sake they don’t do that.”
Meanwhile, in the mixed doubles final, firsttime partners Rajeev Ram and Barbora Krejcikova beat Australian wildcards John-Patrick Smith and Astra Sharma 7-6 (3), 6-1.
Osaka came into this tournament last year ranked No. 72. When the new world rankings come out Monday, Osaka, the reigning U.S. Open champion, will become the first singles player, male or female, from Japan to reach No. 1. Retired Chinese star Li Na might as well have been passing a torch when she presented Osaka with the Daphne Akhurst Memorial Cup in the trophy presentation.
Li, a two-time major winner, rose to No. 2 in the world, behind Serena Williams, shortly after winning the 2014 Australian Open. For five years, no singles player from Asia had climbed higher.
Osaka, the first woman since Jennifer Capriati in 2001 to win her first two major titles back to back, does not appear to be going anywhere but forward.
When Osaka defeated Williams in the U.S. Open final in September, she was the eighth different woman since the 2017 Australian Open to win a Grand Slam title. By consolidating her victory in New York with her performance in Melbourne, Osaka demonstrated that she has staying power.
Osaka’s victory over Williams, in retrospect, seems to have represented a coronation of sorts, one queen ceding the throne to her successor. That idea got lost in that final’s chaotic finish, when the chair umpire, Carlos Ramos, warned Williams about a coaching infraction, setting off a chain of events that thrust Williams into the spotlight and Osaka into the shadows.
“Definitely she is a great one,” Kvitova, a two-time Wimbledon champion, said of Osaka. “We’ll see what the future will bring. But for sure she has probably everything that has to be there to play her best tennis.”
Naomi Osaka answers questions at a news conference after defeating Petra Kvitova in the women’s singles final at the Australian Open on Saturday.