The Japanese, tennis’ new unstoppable, powered to a 6-4, 6-3 win over Jennifer Brady to clinch her second Australian Open title.
The 23-year-old didn’t blitz the 77-minute affair, both players nailed just 48 per cent of first serves, and Osaka won 69 of the total 123 points played, but every time Brady tossed a question at her, she managed to produce her best tennis. Serves and strokes. Osaka, who’ll climb a spot to No.2 in the WTA rankings on Monday, had 16 winners and 24 unforced errors in the final.
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The first set was a snakes and ladders chase. Osaka went up 3-1, Brady levelled at three games apiece. The American then pulled off a tough hold in the eighth game and Osaka responded by spiritedly defending territory in ninth. At 4-5, 40-15, Brady, sporting an icy mintgreen dress, looked in charge, but play that saw her go over, including a double fault, put her in a hole. On set point, the 25-year-old blew a sitter, slamming a forehand into the net.
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“That was an uncharacteristic shot from her,” Osaka said of the forehand. “(At that point) I was thinking that she either felt really nervous or really pressured, and I should capitalize on that. Win as many games as I could pace-wise. Once a person loses the first set, doubts start to creep in, that’s when you really should put your foot on the gas.”
That’s exactly what the 23-year-old did, going up 4-0. At 30-all in the fifth game, Osaka sent down a second serve that popped in the middle of the box. Brady didn’t do enough with the return and the third seed demonstrated how a lame ball should be treated on the next shot.
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That exchange seemed to pep Brady, who broke in the fifth game and held her next two service games. But it wasn’t enough on the day, Osaka served for the championship in the ninth game, pulling off a love hold.
The four-time major winner marked the final out as a mental battle. “We were both nervous,” she said. “I told myself before the match, I’m probably not going to play well. I shouldn’t put that pressure on myself, but just go out there and fight for every point. The outcome is whatever it wants to be, but I can live with the fact that I tried very hard.”
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The Los Angeles-based pro takes deep breaths on the court in a bid to calm herself. Between points, her fists are always clenched and when preparing to receive serve she bounces up and down on the baseline, tapping her legs, egging herself on. Nerves, Osaka said, were a result of her own expectations. “You want to win a Grand Slam. You don’t go into a final wanting to be the runner-up,” she said. “Every time I play a Slam is an opportunity to win a Slam. I put that pressure on myself, but it’s working out in my favour right now.”