MELBOURNE, Australia – The problem for Naomi Osaka in Grand Slam tournaments comes in Week 1. However, in the hard court majors, get past this stage and prepare to write her name on the trophy.
Osaka won their fourth title in their last eight slam appearances. She emerged from an initially tight Australian Open final and won six games in a row to beat Jennifer Brady 6-4, 6-3 on Saturday.
With a strong serve that produced six aces, Osaka improved to 4-0 in the grand final, the first woman to start her career this way since Monica Seles did so 30 years ago. For Osaka, this is part of a 12-0 record in the quarterfinals and beyond in the majors.
The 2020 AP Athlete of the Year also has a 21-match winning streak last season. This includes a championship at last year’s US Open. She also won the US Open in 2018 and the Australian Open in 2019.
“It shouldn’t be like this tonight,” said Brady after taking part in her first Grand Slam final when she was 25. “Hopefully there is a lot more.”
Osaka, 23, was born in Japan to a Japanese mother and a Haitian father and moved to the United States with her family at the age of three.
She was ranked 3rd at Melbourne Park and is now sure to move up to 2nd.
Only two active women have more slam titles than Osaka: Serena Williams at 23 and her sister Venus at seven.
The next task for Osaka is improving clay and grass: she has never made it through the third round at the French Open or Wimbledon.
“She’s a great inspiration to all of us, and what she does for the game is amazing to bring the sport to market,” said Brady, an American who was ranked 22nd. “I hope that young girls at home will watch and be inspired by what she is doing.”
Brady had to go through a tough quarantine for 15 days when she arrived in Australia in January because someone on her flight tested positive for COVID-19 upon arrival.
This was a big competitive boost during that tournament for Brady, who hadn’t faced anyone in the top 25 or anyone who had previously appeared in a Grand Slam semi-final.
Brady’s only major appearance in the last four years was at the US Open in September when she lost to Osaka in three sets.
This time she couldn’t push the champion that hard.
“I told everyone who would listen that you would be a problem – and I was right,” Osaka said to Brady with a chuckle after asking her if she would rather be called Jenny or Jennifer. “Seeing your growth over the past few months is really cool to me.”
During the coin toss before the game, the silver women’s cup stood on a transparent plastic base not far from Osaka on her side of the net. After beating Serena Williams in the semifinals, Osaka had made her intentions clear: “I have a mentality that people don’t remember the runner-up. They could, but the winner’s name is the one that’s engraved.”
And she always makes sure this name is hers.
It was cooler than Melbourne lately, with a temperature below 20 degrees Celsius and a breeze that made it difficult for either player to throw the ball instead of hitting it and saying “Sorry!” “
The stadium was allowed to be half full – around 7,500 people – after spectators were completely closed for five days during a COVID-19 lockdown.
“Thank you for coming and watching. It really feels amazing to me,” said Osaka, whose US Open title came in empty stadiums. “I didn’t play my last Grand Slam with fans. Just to have that energy it really means a lot.”
On the men’s last Sunday (7:30 p.m. local time, 3:30 p.m. ET on ESPN and ESPN app), Novak Djokovic No. 1 will aim for his ninth Australian Open championship and the 18th Grand Slam trophy overall. He meets Daniil Medvedev No. 4, who has a winning streak of 20 games in his second grand final.
The women’s match was suspended at 4-0 on Saturday when Brady installed an on-the-run praise winner, who she underscored by waving her arms to demand more noise from the crowd. That brought a breakpoint – convert that and it would serve for the opening sentence.
But Osaka wiped out the chance with a cross-court forehand winner and two mistakes by Brady made it 5-4.
Osaka then dropped out to snag the set, aided by Brady’s double fault and a reticulated forehand on a short ball to end it.
That was part of the six-game run that put Osaka 4-0 up in game two, and she was on the way.