Sec­ond slam ti­tle sig­nals Osaka in line to rule ten­nis

The Charlotte Observer (Sunday) - - Sports - BY KAREN CROUSE New York Times

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.”

MARK SCHIEFELBE­IN AP

Naomi Osaka an­swers ques­tions at a news con­fer­ence af­ter de­feat­ing Pe­tra Kvi­tova in the women’s sin­gles fi­nal at the Aus­tralian Open on Satur­day.

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