Japan's Osaka keeps her head to win second slam title

 - Simon Cambers

Resilient 21-year-old survives mid-match crisis to deny Kvitova fairytale win

Naomi Osaka holding her trophy at the 2019 Australian Open
©Corinne Dubreuil/FFT

If the definition of a champion is to be able to keep your head when things are going wrong, then Naomi Osaka fits the bill.

Five months after she stayed cool as Serena Williams suffered a meltdown in the US Open final, the 21-year-old survived a mid-match crisis to beat Petra Kvitova to add the Australian Open title to a trophy cabinet which is likely to become full before long.

Nice hug at the net between Naomi OSaka and Petra Kvitova at the 2019 Australian Open©Corinne Dubreuil/FFT
The Melbourne crowd cheered

Leading 7-6, 5-3, and 0-40 on the Czech’s serve, Osaka missed all three match points as Kvitova fought back. Before she knew it, she was into a decider. But the way she pulled herself back together under pressure was hugely impressive and makes the first woman in 18 years to win her first slam and then follow it up with another at the next time of asking.

In September, Osaka had to listen as the crowd jeered following her win over Williams, but on Saturday, the Melbourne crowd cheered her throughout as she saw off Kvitova in a dramatic final. Still, there were tears but unlike in New York, this time they were happy tears, a second grand slam title also ensuring that from Monday, she will be the world No 1 for the first time.

“I feel like it hasn't really sunk in,” she said, of both the victory and the No 1 ranking. “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.”

The moment when Naomi Osaka realises she has just won the 2019 Australian Open
©Corinne Dubreuil/FFT
Enjoy her time here

Many players would have cracked mentally if they had missed three match points as Osaka did in that second set but the Japanese is a fighter, someone who loves to work hard and do everything it takes to get over the line.

“It didn't really take that long (to get her focus back after the second set,” she said. “I didn't have a choice on how long the break was. I don't know, like I felt like I didn't want to have any regrets. I think if I didn't regroup after the second set, then I would have looked back on this match and probably cried or something.

"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.

“I wanted to enjoy my time here. Last year I lost in the fourth round. Now this year I was in the final, so I wanted to be happy about that, just basically have no regrets about today.”

Petra Kvitova in tears during her specch at the trophy prestentation of the 2019 Australian Open.
©Corinne Dubreuil/FFT
“It's hurting a lot”

Kvitova’s run to the final had captured the imagination, a stunning effort given it is still only just over two years since she was attacked with a knife by an intruder in her own home. The attack left the two-time Wimbledon champion needing extensive surgery to her left hand – her dominant hand – and she was told there was only a slim chance she could ever hit a ball again, let alone play on the Tour.

But like Osaka, Kvitova’s strength of mind has always been crucial to her success and she fought back to get on Tour five months after the attack. On Saturday, here she was, agonisingly close to a third grand slam title.

“It's hurting a lot today,” she said. “I wanted to win and have the trophy. But I think I already won two years ago. So for me, it's amazing. I think I still don't really realize that I played the final. 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.”

during the trophy presentation athe 2019 Australian Open
©Corinne Dubreuil/FFT

This time last year, Osaka was ranked 72, a talent and someone people expected to do well in the future. A year on she owns two grand slams, as well as the Indian Wells title, and she is the No 1 for the first time.

Missed chances

If it all seems to have happened fast from the outside, that’s not how Osaka sees it. “To me it doesn’t,” she said. “For me, every practice and every match that I've played, it feels like the year is short and long at the same time. But I'm aware of all the work that I put in. I know all the sacrifices that every player does to stay at this level. I mean, in my opinion, it didn't feel fast. It felt kind of long.”

Kvitova had her chances, break points in the first set going begging before Osaka snatched it on the tiebreak, 7-2 and she had a chance to break back for 3-3 in the third.

But having missed her chance in the second set, Osaka was not going to make the same mistake again and she served out for a famous victory.

“I think as a whole, this tournament was very eye-opening for me,” she said. “I had a lot of matches that were very tough and I was behind in some of them. I think it showed me that I could win matches from behind, just on willpower alone.”