A few days ago, Justine Henin had labelled Naomi Osaka the ‘new boss’ of women’s tennis. On Saturday, Osaka proved the Belgian right, scoring a striking, composed 6-4, 6-3 win over USA’s Jennifer Brady in the Australian Open.
“She’s breaking away from the pack,” said 18-time major champion Chris Evert in her role as an ESPN analyst. “Something’s changing. Something is shifting now.
“It’s all about Naomi.”
The win puts Osaka in rarefied territory. She is only the first women’s player since Monica Seles, in the 1990s, to win each of her first four Grand Slam finals. She’s only the third player overall in more than a half century to that. The other one is Roger Federer.
“That’s very amazing company,” Osaka said.
— #AusOpen (@AustralianOpen) February 20, 2021
“I hope that I can, have, like, one grain of how their career has unfolded. But, you can only wish and you can only just keep going down your own path. But, yeah, it’s definitely something crazy to hear.”
The 23-year-old, who has four Grand Slams in a total of seven tour titles, has proved to be invincible in the second week of a major. Every time she has entered a quarterfinal of a Grand Slam event, she has gone on to win the title.
Osaka had saved two match points against last year’s finalist, Garbine Muguruza, before soaring to another level. Wins over the tricky Su-Wei Hsieh and Serena Williams followed.
Going into the final, Osaka had said, “I have this mentality that people don’t remember the runners-up. You might, but the winner’s name is the one that’s engraved. I think I fight the hardest in the finals. I think that’s where you sort of set yourself apart.”
And she certainly did in the title clash against the 25-year-old Brady. The Japanese served six aces, won 73 per cent of the point on her first serve and converted four out of five break points to clinch victory in an hour and 17 minutes.
“I don’t think there is something that’s intangible about her,” Brady said of Osaka in her post-match interview.
“She’s human, like the rest of us in this room. She’s just, you know, brings out her best in the big moments. She knows what she’s doing out there. She’s confident in herself, her game, her team.”
By winning the Australian Open, Osaka became only the fourth active player to have four Slams or more. The other three are 39-year-old Serena Williams (23), 40-year-old Venus Williams (7) and Kim Clijsters (4), who is 37.
Osaka will be rise to No 2 in the world on Monday, behind Ashleigh Barty.