MELBOURNE: With a resilience forged in the strife-torn U.S. Open final, Naomi Osaka clinched her second Grand Slam title at the Australian Open on Saturday, but this time there was no drama that could sour her triumph.
Osaka’s breakthrough victory in New York in September was overshadowed by an explosive row between her opponent Serena Williams and the chair umpire Carlos Ramos, the fall-out from the ruckus echoing well beyond match point.
Reduced to tears during the trophy ceremony, her crowning moment as Japan’s first Grand Slam title winner was spoiled as a hostile crowd at Arthur Ashe stadium jeered.
She later spoke of the moment as “bittersweet” and one she wanted to move on from only a day after it occurred.
On Saturday, the tears flowed again, firstly in anguish after losing the second set in a riveting final and finally in joy as she celebrated a 7-6(2) 5-7 6-4 victory over the brave twice Wimbledon champion Petra Kvitova.
There was not an ounce of bitterness as Osaka accepted the Daphne Akhurst Memorial Cup from Asia’s first Grand Slam champion Li Na, with only warm cheers ringing from the Rod Laver Arena terraces.
“In New York, most of the crowd was for Serena. Here it felt like they were split a little bit,” Osaka told reporters.
“Yeah, I mean, honestly when I was playing her, and I heard the crowd was for both of us, I was very happy. At the same time I was just trying to focus on playing the match.”
Being Osaka, there was also a bit of awkwardness.
The 21-year-old started her victory speech by apologising for not being a strong “public speaker”, then stopped halfway through to put the trophy down.
After throwing out a few ‘thank yous’, she admitted to forgetting what had been in her speech notes and wrapped things up quickly.
Osaka might be forgiven for not being the most polished speaker. After all, it was only the third title of her career.
That two of the three titles have been at Grand Slams speaks volumes of her potential, however, and she appears set for plenty more chances to hone her speeches.
Her racket, of course, may be the tour’s biggest loudspeaker, with the boom of her 192 km/hr serves and winners echoing around centre court.
Such power can be volatile over the course of three sets and she was brought to tears when broken serving for the match at 5-4 in the second set.
But, as against semi-finalist Karolina Pliskova and her tricky third round opponent Hsieh Su-wei, Osaka’s steel reappeared and she hammered eighth seed Kvitova mercilessly until she was broken.
With the win Osaka became Asia’s first world number one and the first player of any nation to win her first two Grand Slam titles back-to-back since Jennifer Capriati in 2001.
On the strength of Saturday’s final, more major silverware may be just around the corner.
Osaka spoke of a tournament where she had found the ability to win on “will power alone”, a quality regularly attributed to Williams throughout her career of 23 Grand Slam titles.
“For me, I feel like it hasn’t really sunk in. Maybe in the next tournament I play, if I see the number one next to my name, I’ll feel something,” she said.
“But for now, I’m more happy that I won this trophy.”