Naomi Osaka beats Jennifer Brady in straight sets to win Australian Open
Japanese third-seed powers to victory over American and seals fourth Grand Slam title
Naomi Osaka cemented her status as the dominant force in women's tennis by winning a fourth Grand Slam at the Australian Open.
The Japanese star reclaimed the title she won in 2019 with a dominant 6-4, 6-3 victory over first-time slam finalist Jennifer Brady, maintaining her perfect record in major finals.
The pair had played a superb match in the semi-finals of the US Open last year but this was only briefly a contest after Osaka overcame some early wobbles to clinch the first set.
The 23-year-old remains behind Ashleigh Barty in the rankings because of the temporary switch to a two-year system but there is no doubt Osaka is the best player in the world on hard courts.
She now holds two titles again after winning in New York last September and has extended her winning run to 21 matches, stretching back more than a year, while only Serena and Venus Williams of active players now hold more Slam titles.
Osaka becomes only the third player after Monica Seles and Roger Federer to win their first four major finals.
Having grown up watching the Australian Open at "crazy hours" in the United States, Osaka said it felt "surreal" to triumph for the second time at Melbourne Park.
"I'm really just living my dreams," she said. "I'm always shaking a little bit [at the end]. Thank God I had three match points."
Reinforcing her reputation as tennis's leading light, having won four of her last eight Slams she's played, Osaka warned she was not satisfied.
"I take every tournament seriously," she said. "I just want to be consistent and that is my main goal this year."
American Brady, 25, is a late developer who failed to qualify for the tournament two years ago but a strong start to last season persuaded her she could compete with the best players.
She certainly showed that at the US Open, where Osaka had to play what she has described as one of her best matches to stay on track for another grand slam title.
Brady struggled to handle her nerves in her semi-final victory over Karolina Muchova and a poor game allowed Osaka to break for 3-1.
But both women were missing a lot of first serves in breezy conditions and back came Brady to level at 3-3 in a flurry of Osaka errors.
The next four games were the crunch moments of the match as the pair battled for supremacy in a heavy-hitting contest.
Brady withstood pressure to hold for 4-4 but Osaka did the same in the next game and two poor forehands from Brady – the first wildly overhit and the second into the net from inside the service box – gave up the first set.
It was a huge blow for Brady, who had settled into the match well and was enjoying the occasion. That feeling did not last as Osaka cruised into a 4-0 lead in the second set.
Brady composed herself well, firing up her big forehand once more to pull two games back, and threatened to get back into the match.
But Osaka has proved herself a player more than able to handle herself at the biggest occasions and she calmly served out the match to love.
"When we played in the semis of the US Open, a couple of months ago, and I told everyone that 'Listen you're going to be a problem'. And I was right," said Osaka of her opponent after the match. "To see your growth over the past few months is really cool."
Brady was equally full of praise for her opponent. "First, I would like to congratulate Naomi on another Grand Slam title," said the American. "She's such an inspiration to us all and what she's doing for the game, getting the sport out there, and I hope young girls at home are watching and are inspired by what she's doing.
"It was special to play in front of fans in my first grand slam final. Hopefully, I'm standing on the stage next time with this girl over here [the Daphne Akhurst Memorial Cup] but tonight it wasn't meant to be. Hopefully, there's many more."
Updated: February 20, 2021 04:19 PM