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By Richard Pagliaro | Saturday, February 20, 2021

 
Naomi Osaka

Naomi Osaka swept Jennifer Brady 6-4, 6-3 in the Australian Open final to capture her fourth career Grand Slam title and remain perfect in major finals.

Photo credit: Cameron Spencer/Getty

Inspired in her drive to the Australian Open final, Naomi Osaka was imposing completing her fourth major title run.

An explosive Osaka overwhelmed first-time finalist Jennifer Brady 6-4, 6-3 to capture her second Australian Open championship in the last three years.

More: Previewing Australian Open Finals

The 23-year-old Osaka is the first woman since Hall of Famer Monica Seles in the 1990s to win her first four Grand Slam finals.


"I'm really happy right now," Osaka told the media in Melbourne. "I think this is a moment that I have been working for during the entire preseason.

"You know, it's really weird when you get to that final point, you start trembling because you can think of the "what-ifs." So for me I feel like I'm living in a "what-if" right now."




Firing with menacing intent, Osaka broke down Brady's backhand wing streaking through a six-game surge to blow open a 4-all tie with a victory that will vault her to world No. 2.

A surging Osaka scored her 21st consecutive victory—she hasn't lost a match in more than a year—as the queen of clutch now holds two of the four Grand Slam crowns after completing the US Open-Australian Open championship double for the second time.

"Firstly, I want to congratulate Jennifer. We played in the semifinals of the US Open and I told everyone that would listen that you're going to be a problem, and I was right," Osaka said during the trophy presentation ceremony. "To see your growth over the past few months is really cool.

"I'd like to thank my team. I've been with them too long, a month and some change. They're like my family. They're the ones with me through my training, through my matches, through my nervous talks before my matches, and I'm really appreciative towards them. This one's for you.

"Lastly but not least, I want to thank you guys (the fans). Thank you for coming and watching. It feels really incredible. I didn't play my last Grand Slam with fans so just to have this energy, it really means a lot. Thank you for opening your hearts and your arms towards us."


Continuing to climb the ladder of iconic champions, Osaka now stands shoulder-to-shoulder with Hall of Famer Kim Clijsters with four career major championships, one behind Hall of Famer Martina Hingis and Maria Sharapova.

Based on her dynamic performance throughout the past year, you can envision Osaka adding substantial Grand Slam silverware in the coming years.

The 22nd-seeded Brady, who endured a 14-day hard quarantine in Melbourne last month, had a break point at 4-all, but did not convert. Osaka steamrolled through six straight games after that.

Though Brady never fully found her game in her Grand Slam final debut, she was pure class in defeat.

"It was special to play in front of fans in my first Grand Slam final," Brady said. "Hopefully I'm standing on this stage next time with this girl over here. But tonight it wasn’t meant to be. Hopefully there’s many more."



This powerful performance capped an exhilarating two-week run that saw an assertive Osaka fight off two match points toppling two-time major champion Garbine Muguruza 4-6, 6-4, 7-5 in the fourth round before sweeping her tennis idol, 23-time Grand Slam champion Serena Williams, in a stiring semifinal.  

Commanding the center of the court, the pace of Osaka's drives sometimes forced Brady to counter off her back foot. The US Open champion charged through 10 of the first 14 games beating Brady to the ball and redirecting drives down the line. 

Straddling the baseline at times, Osaka took the ball earlier robbing Brady's reaction time on the fast blue hard court. 

"She's played in four Grand Slam finals and she's won four of them. I think that's something that is tough to do," Brady said. "She plays so aggressive that she puts so much pressure on you to perform well, and that's something that not every tennis player has that ability to do that. So a lot of respect to her. Yeah, she's a great player."

The final was a rematch of the US Open semifinals played beneath the closed roof of Arthur Ashe Stadium last September. Operating in those pristine conditions, the pair combined for 70 winners and just two service breaks in Osaka's 7-6, 3-6, 6-3 in.

Playing on a windy Rod Laver Arena before festive fans both women felt the jitters in this rematch combining for 55 unforced errors. Osaka said she was so tight before the final she focused completely on expending effort and accepting it may get sloppy.

"Tonight I felt like was more of a mental battle. I think we were both nervous," Osaka said. "Of course, I can't speak for her, but I was extremely nervous.

"I honestly just told myself before the match, I'm probably not going to play well. I shouldn't put that pressure on myself to play perfectly but just go out there and fight for every point. You know, the outcome is whatever it wants to be, but I can live with the fact that I tried very hard."

The 2019 champion set the tone charging through a two-ace game to open this final. Despite landing just three first serves in her opening game, Brady held to level.

Attacking the American’s backhand, Osaka exploited a couple of double faults firing through the first break at love in the fourth game. It was Osaka’s turn to tighten a bit as she pasted a running backhand into net gifting back the break. Brady streaked through a love hold in response.

Struggling to land first serves, Brady hung tough saving a break point to even it after eight games despite serving just 40 percent.

Thirty-five minutes into the match, Brady scraped a clever running lob for break point. Osaka withstood the stress test rapping a forehand down the line to hold for 5-4.

Getting the better of the backhand exchanges, Osaka dug a stretch backhand that settled in the corner forcing a floating error from a back-pedaling Brady for set point.




Osaka’s skill stepping into the court and rapping returns drew dividends. Brady shoveled a low forehand reply into net as Osaka seized the 41-minute opener.

Neither woman served above 45 percent in the opener—and both had late looks on the opponent’s serve—but Osaka defended her serve better and was more resourceful.

The third seed was 44-1 in Grand Slam matches when winning the opening set.

Imposing those fierce front-running skills, Osaka banged a backhand crosscourt for a break point. Centering a backhand return right down the middle, Osaka jammed Brady, who was falling backward hitting off her backfoot as her forehand flew wide. Osaka’s third break gave her a 2-0 lead.

The three-time major champion slid fifth ace down the T backing up the break for a 3-0 lead.

Though she kept firing away, Brady could not cope with the angle and depth of Osaka’s drives the buzzed away from her on the fast blue hard court. Slapping a forehand into net, Brady surrendered serve for the third time in a row as an imperious Osaka extended her lead to 4-0.

Mired in a six-game slide, Brady kept battling drawing the error to break back in the fifth game.

Tennis Express

Closing power is one of Osaka's best assets. Undefeated in Grand Slam quarterfinals, semifinals and finals, Osaka knows how to elevate the end game. Brady, who pushed Osaka to three sets in their US Open semifinal, knew what was coming.

"She played really well when she had to. She hit good shots when she needed them," Brady said. "In those moments, that's the toughest time to find those shots. You know, to put you on defense when, you know, when it's the big moments.

"And just to serve out the match like that, you know, she did that also in New York against me. She obviously has confidence in her serve and serving out matches and playing high-risk tennis when it matters. So, yeah, it's tough to face."

Serving for the championship at 5-3, Osaka fired a forehand down the line to open.

Slashing a searing serve down the middle, Osaka closed in style in 77 minutes thrusting her racquet above her head then trotting over to her box to capture the moment on video.

Embed from Getty Images

Osaka book-ended this final with love holds in the first and last games earning the engraving of her name on the Daphne Akhurst Memorial Cup.  

Throughout the most turbulent times of her title run, Osaka trusted herself and her game. It's what champions do and it's one reason why Osaka is a player with a major platform and probably many Grand Slam titles ahead.

"I think what I have learned on and off the court is it's okay to not be sure about yourself," Osaka said. "For me, I feel like I've always forced myself to, like, be "strong" or whatever. I think if you're not feeling okay, it's okay to not feel okay.

"But you have to sort of go within yourself and figure things out in a way. For me, that's what I did during quarantine before US Open last year. That's what I did when I was in quarantine here, too."

 

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