Naomi Osaka, 21-years old, was in shock after beating Petra Kvitova to win the Australian Open in a three-set thriller that also delivered her second Grand Slam title.
The Japanese fourth seed and US Open champion triumphed 7-6 (7/2), 5-7, 6-4 in a 2hr 27min epic over the Czech eighth seed to claim back-to-back Grand Slams and become the first Asian, male or female, to hold the top spot. The Japanese youngster fell to one knee in celebration, head bowed, as Melbourne Park erupted in thunderous cheers.
“I felt like I was in a state of shock through the entire trophy presentation,” said Naomi.
“Of course I felt very disappointed and sad when I had three match points,” said Kvitova.
“I tried to tell myself there’s nothing I can do about it. Told myself I’m playing a final and need to keep fighting and couldn’t act immature and needed to keep fighting.”
“Thank you for sticking with me even when we didn’t know if I would able to hold a racquet again,” Kvitova said her team.
“It’s crazy. I can hardly believe that I just played in a Grand Slam final again.”
These two players had never met before and Osaka initially struggled to unlock the lanky left-hander’s serve, while Kvitova at times could not handle her opponent’s powerful returns.
The Czech mixed up her game with drop shots and changes of pace but blew three break chances in a crunch sixth game in the first set.
Kvitova saved two set points to force a tie-break but Osaka ran away with it 7-2, taking the first set the Czech had conceded in the entire tournament.
Kvitova regrouped and kept her hopes alive with the first break of the match, going up 2-0 in the second.
Osaka was frustrated but did not panic, going back on level terms in the next game after benefiting from a Kvitova double fault and poorly hit drop shot.
The Japanese star broke again to take control as Kvitova’s error rate climbed, bringing up three championship points. But the Czech saved all of them, forcing Osaka to serve for the title.
Nerves took hold as Osaka conceded a break to make it 5-5, smashing a ball into the ground and putting her hands over her ears.
The Czech broke again to seize momentum with her fourth straight game.
Osaka regained her cool and clipped a clean backhand winner to take a break point in the third game of the decider, going on to see off a Kvitova break opportunity, her mental demons put to bed.
Kvitova would not surrender, saving three break points before again forcing Osaka to serve it out, but the Japanese champion managed it on the second attempt for a famous victory.