Osaka Ascending Down Under

Melbourne+Park%2C+Melbourne%2C+Australia%2C+February+20%2C+2021.+Japan%27s+Naomi+Osaka+celebrates+winning+her+final+match+against+Jennifer+Brady+of+the+US.+

Photo courtesy of Reuters.

Melbourne Park, Melbourne, Australia, February 20, 2021. Japan’s Naomi Osaka celebrates winning her final match against Jennifer Brady of the US.

Allison Lvovich, Staff Writer

Going into the 2021 Australian Open, the unpredictability of events was palpable, along with the ever-lasting tension between the players and the person they longed to beat the most: Serena Williams. Standing in Serena’s way was, of course, Naomi Osaka, an extremely dangerous contender when allowed to attack. Prior to this year’s Australian Open, Osaka and Williams were tied 2-2 in their matches against each other. The last time they faced each other in a major tournament was the 2018 US Open, arguably the most dramatic grand slam final ever. After penalties and arguments against the umpire, Osaka secured her first grand slam title and stopped Serena in her quest to tie Margaret Court’s 24 grand slam title record. 

During this year’s Australian Open, Williams defeated the second seed Simona Halep to face Naomi Osaka, last year’s defending champion. Osaka’s game this tournament, however, had been rather impeccable. She played almost flawlessly throughout the tournament and only dropped a set against two-time grand slam champion Garbiñe Muguruza. Serena, on the other hand, had played well but had some shaky matches where she did not play to her full, unbeatable potential. 

As this is the fifth time Serena has made it to a grand slam semifinal without winning the title (since she won her last grand slam in the 2017 Australian Open), fans were hoping and praying that she could finally tie Court’s grand slam record, and perhaps beat it later on. Not only would this make history, but it would also make her the last woman on tour since Kim Clijsters in 2012 to win a grand slam title after going on maternity leave. 

Going into the highly anticipated semifinal match, Osaka knew she had to switch to a completely different gear to defeat Williams. Within the first few minutes of the match, Osaka was down 0-2 and a breakpoint against Williams.

“I hit a lot of unforced errors in the first few games, I was just really nervous […], and then I sort of eased my way into it,” she explained in an on-court interview after the semifinal.

After overcoming this early-match deficit, Osaka delivered a beautiful straight-set win in just about an hour and a half. 

A day later, Osaka once again thrashed her opponent Jennifer Brady in straight sets in under an hour and a half to take the title for the second year in a row. Playing with marvelous attacking strength and a rock-solid wall for a mental game, 23-year-old Osaka has a lifetime of victories ahead of her.