Melbourne – Naomi Osaka has seized the Australian Open title and the number one ranking after defeating Petra Kvitova 7-6 (7-2), 5-7, 6-4 in a drama-filled battle on Saturday in which she failed to take three championship points in the second set.
It makes the 21-year-old Japanese fourth seed the first woman to win back-to-back grand slam titles since Serena Williams in 2015, after Osaka beat Williams in the final of last year’s US Open.
She is also the first Asian woman to hold the number one ranking, which she will take over from Romania’s Simona Halep on Monday.
Kvitova, a two-time Wimbledon champion, had been playing in her first grand slam final since her racquet hand was severely injured in a 2016 knife attack at her home.
“Huge congrats to you Petra, I’ve always wanted to play you and you’ve been through so much,” Osaka said as she accepted the Daphne Akhurst Memorial Cup.
“You’re really amazing and I’m really honoured to have played you in the final of a grand slam,” she added.
Kvitova congratulated Osaka, saying it was a “great final” and “you really played well.”
She also addressed her team, saying “thank you for sticking with me even [when] we didn’t know if I’d be able to hold a racquet again.
“You were there every single day, supporting me and staying positive for me, which I really needed. It probably wasn’t easy so thank you so much.”
After an uncertain start by Osaka, she settled into her rhythm and took the first set tiebreak, as the Czech eighth seed struggled to deal with the depth and spin of her returns.
Kvitova broke Osaka early in the second set to lead 2-0, but the Japanese broke straight back with the help of the netcord and a double fault from the eighth seed.
As Kvitova served to stay in the match at 5-3, Osaka shot ahead 0-40, creating three championship points, all of which the cool-headed Kvitova saved before holding and then breaking back twice to take the second set as Osaka’s game crumbled and she double faulted on set point.
But the Japanese recovered her poise in the deciding set, breaking early to lead 2-1. From then on she never looked back, creating three championship points as she served at 5-4, and taking the second on a service winner. (dpa)