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Osaka Defeats Kvitova, Clinches Australian Open Title

Ascends to No.1

With a second major title and World No.1 on the line, Japan’s Naomi Osaka stood tall to grab both mantles, capturing the Australian Open crown, 7-6(2), 5-7, 6-4 over two-time Wimbledon winner Petra Kvitova.

Champion at the US Open last summer, the 21-year-old survived a mid-match hiccup to extend her Grand Slam match winning streak to 14 straight.

She became the first maiden major champion to win two in a row since Jennifer Capriati in 2001 – after two hours and 27 minutes on Rod Laver Arena.

“I mean, for me, I feel like it hasn’t really sunk in,” Osaka told press afterward. “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 happy that I won this trophy.”

Osaka put on a near-flawless display in her thrilling semifinal victory over Karolina Pliskova, and was similarly steely to start against Kvitova, who was playing her first major final since 2014 with a chance to become the oldest woman to debut World No.1.

The big-hitting duo exchanged body blows from the baseline and defended their serves from a total of eight break points – two of which doubled as set points for Osaka at 6-5 – to force a first set tie-break.

The turning point came when Osaka blasted a backhand return winner to grab the first mini-break, riding that momentum through the sudden death to find herself in pole position to win a 60th straight match after taking the opening set.

Kvitova nonetheless began the second set on more confident footing, breaking first with points for a 3-0 lead, but Osaka quickly flipped the script, racing out to a 5-3 lead.

Returning for the title, the Japanese star engineered three championship points at 0-40. Kvitova saved all three – one with a seeringly signature forehand winner – and forced Osaka to serve for that second Slam trophy.

Nerves appeared to take their toll for the youngster as the more experienced Kvitova stepped in to earn two straight service breaks – all while saving a break point at 5-5 – to win five straight games and level the match.

“Last year I lost in the fourth round,” Osaka recalled, speaking of losing the second set. “Now this year I was in the final, so I wanted to be happy about that and just basically have no regrets about today.

“I just thought to myself that this is my second time playing a final. I can’t really act entitled.

“To be playing against one of the best players in the world, to lose a set, suddenly think that I’m so much better than her that that isn’t a possibility…”

Osaka soon steadied early in the decider, nabbing the first break behind a big backhand winner and took another 0-40 lead at 4-2.

Again, Kvitova tapped into her best tennis at her moment of most jeopardy, saving all three break points, but a missed volley helped Osaka get within one game of victory.

Serving for the match a second time, Osaka made no mistakes, blasting another backand to book three more championship points, securing it on her second to become Asia’s first World No.1.

“Like, I had dreams that I would win this tournament, you know?,” Osaka said.

“Every time I have a dream, somehow I accomplish it, I still feel like it’s a very strange moment.

“Like, I feel like I’m living right now, but it’s not necessarily real, if that makes sense.”

In all, Osaka struck 33 winners to 33 unforced errors, a whopping 9 aces while maintaining a solid 76% winning percentage behind her first serve.

Kvitova posted equally aggressive numbers with 33 winners and 39 unforced errors of her own, but came up just short in what was nonetheless a renaissance fortnight for the Czech veteran.

“It’s hurting a lot today,” Kvitova acknowledged in her press conference. “I wanted to win and have the trophy. But I think I already won two years ago. So for me, it’s amazing.

“I mean, I’ve been through many, many things, not really great ones. I didn’t know if I going to hold the racquet again. I’m holding it, so that’s good. Still few things which I can improve, and we’ll do it.

“So it’s not the end. Yeah, I be back for sure.”

Osaka ascends to No.1

Naomi will become the new WTA World No.1 when the rankings are released on Monday, Jan. 28.

By lifting her second career Grand Slam title at the Australian Open, Osaka is set to become the first Japanese player – man or woman – to achieve this historic milestone since computer rankings were introduced in 1975, and the 26th woman overall to hold the No.1 ranking.

At 21 years, 104 days old, she will also become the youngest player to make her WTA World No.1 debut since Caroline Wozniacki who reached No.1 in 2010 at 20 years, 92 days old.

“I’m beyond excited to become the new WTA World No.1,” said Osaka.

“I’ve always dreamt of being in this position and I am honored to be part of the elite group of players who have reached the No.1 ranking.”

After reaching the semifinals at the China Open in Beijing last October, Osaka became the second Japanese woman to break into the WTA Top 5, following Kimiko Date who reached as high as World No.4 in November 1995.

This No.1 crowning achievement is the latest accolade in Osaka’s young career, having clinched her career first WTA title at the Premier Mandatory BNP Paribas Open in Indian Wells in 2018.

Following her US Open triumph last summer to win her first Grand Slam, she reached the final at the Toray Pan Pacific Open (Tokyo) and qualified for her first WTA Finals at the BNP Paribas WTA Finals Singapore presented by SC Global.

Osaka is currently riding a 14-match winning streak at the Grand Slams, becoming the first player to win back-to-back Grand Slams since Serena Williams (2014 US Open, 2015 Australian Open).

“I’ve always dreamt of being in this position and I am honored to be part of the elite group of players who have reached the No.1 ranking.”

“To achieve the WTA World No.1 ranking is an incredible accomplishment and I would like to congratulate Naomi on realizing this so early in her career,” said WTA CEO and Chairman Steve Simon.

“Naomi is an exemplary person both on and off the court who carries forth the virtues that the Chris Evert WTA World No.1 Trophy represents.”

At the start of this fortnight in Melbourne, 11 players had a chance at leaving with the No.1 ranking.

Having defeated Petra Kvitova in Saturday’s final, Osaka ensures her ascension to the top spot and overtakes Romania’s Simona Halep who spent 48 consecutive weeks, and 64 weeks overall, as World No.1.

“Winning back-to-back Grand Slam tournaments is a rare and special achievement, and I’m thrilled these results have propelled Naomi to the top of the women’s game,” said Chris Evert, the first ever WTA World No.1.

“Her exciting brand of tennis, coupled with the dignity she displays on and off court, is a winning combination that tennis fans really embrace.

“She is still so young, with so much potential to keep growing as No.1. I can’t wait to see what the future holds for her.”

Osaka will be presented with the newly named Chris Evert WTA World No.1 Trophy, the focal point of which is a silver “star-map” tennis ball that represents the tennis universe.

All World No.1s, past and present, are depicted by a diamond in the sky, which represents each champion’s mark on the sport.

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