MELBOURNE, January 27, 2019 (by Michael Dickens)
When Naomi Osaka held off the courageous charge of Petra Kvitova to win the 2019 Australian Open women’s singles title on Saturday night in Melbourne, 7-6 (2), 5-7, 6-4, after she failed to convert three championship points in the second set, it showed a remarkable resolve in this young, likable 21-year-old Japanese superstar.
This time, unlike the bittersweet experience of winning last year’s U.S. Open amidst the controversy involving Serena Williams and her clash with chair umpire Carlos Ramos, Osaka could truly enjoy the moment of becoming a Grand Slam champion for a second time.
The No. 4 seed Osaka was five-star marvelous in her thrilling final against the 28-year-old Kvitova from the Czech Republic, who showed much courage – and certainly, there was plenty of emotion on display by both players.
The electrifying crowd in Rod Laver Arena gave both Osaka and the eighth-seeded Kvitova a thunderous and very deserving ovation after the completion of their hard-hitting, two-hour and 27-minute mid-summer night’s battle.
When it was Osaka’s turn to serve for the title, unlike her second-set faux pas, she didn’t let this opportunity slip. Instead, Osaka belted her ninth service ace and hit a forehand winner – her 33rd of the match – before forcing an error to arrive at triple match point for the second time. Then, she slammed another powerful first serve at Kvitova that drew a return error. It was an incredible end to an incredible championship. The crowd erupted in applause and an overwhelmed Osaka sank into a crouch in celebration.
“It’s one of those moments where you’re fighting so hard,” said Osaka, during her post-match press conference. “When it’s finally over you’re still in the state of, like competitiveness.”
During the trophy presentation, Osaka, whose rise from No. 72 to No. 1 in the past year has been truly captivating, gave huge props to the fallen Kvitova.
“Huge congrats to Petra. I’ve always wanted to play you,” she said.
“You’ve been through so much and honestly I wouldn’t have wanted this to be our first match. You’re really amazing and I’m honoured to have played you in the final of a Grand Slam.
“Thanks to my team. I don’t think I would have made it through this week without you guys. Behind a tennis player is always a team and I’m really grateful.”
With her second Grand Slam championship in two major finals, Osaka becomes the new WTA World No. 1 player as well as the first Asian woman to reach No. 1. Also, Osaka becomes the first player to win two consecutive Grand Slam trophies since Serena Williams achieved the feat in 2015, and the first player to back up her first major title at the very next Grand Slam since Jennifer Capriati won the Australian Open and Roland Garros back-to-back in 2001.
Osaka received the Daphne Ackhurst Trophy for winning the Australian Open from Li Na, the first Asian Grand Slam champion.
— #AusOpen (@AustralianOpen) 27. Januar 2019
Meanwhile, for the two-time Wimbledon champion Kvitova, this Australian Open represented the first time the Czech star has reached the final of a Grand Slam since being injured with a knife during a home invasion attack that forever changed her life in December 2016.
“It’s crazy. I can’t really believe that I just played the final of a Grand Slam again,” said Kvitova during an emotional speech she gave in accepting the runner-up prize.
“Thank you (to my team) for sticking with me even if we didn’t know if I would be able to hold a racquet again. You were there every single day supporting me and staying positive for me, which I really needed. I probably wasn’t really easy, so thank you.”
During her presser, Osaka was asked what it means to be the No. 1 player in the world. She said, “I feel like it hasn’t really sunk in. Maybe, in the next tournament I play, if I see the No. 1 next to my name, I’ll feel something. But for now, I’m more than happy that I won this trophy.”
What they’re saying
• Christopher Clarey, New York Times tennis columnist: “Just re-watched the Osaka-Kvitova final. Osaka’s ability to gather herself after faltering and find the way back to victory was yet another mark of a true champion. She showed she could handle a rare moment in New York, handled a very different one in Melbourne with equal character.”
• Martina Navratilova, 18-time Grand Slam singles champion (including three Australian Open singles titles), Hall of Famer and Tennis Channel analyst: “Well, after winning the 2018 U.S. Open Naomi Osaka became a star. And now, after winning the Australian Open and becoming world #1, she is a superstar! Congratulations Champ. And Petra Kvitova, you are the champion of life!”
What they’re tweeting
• Ben Rothenberg, New York Times Tennis correspondent: “Interesting to hear Naomi Osaka say she’s been able to handle the spotlight because she got more media than she thought she ‘deserved’ when her ranking was lower.
“And it’s true: she’s been in an international spotlight far longer than she’s been in a top player, fairly uniquely.”
• Reem Abulleil, Egyptian freelance tennis writer: “Naomi tells us what she forgot from her notes during the trophy ceremony:
“I forgot to smile 😂”
• Simon Cambers, British freelance tennis writer and broadcaster: “Incredible comeback from @Petra_Kvitova to even play again, let alone to reach a grand slam final. So close to the fairytale but @Naomi_Osaka_ deserved the win. Back to back slams, the pair are now No 1 and No 2.”
• Petra Kvitova: “Thank you to my team for being with me every step of the way. It hurts right now but we have been through much tougher things together…and look at this beautiful trophy ❤️ #ausopen”