Naomi Osaka has revealed the secret pep talk she gave herself before confirming herself as the undisputed new dominant force in women’s tennis with a drama-charged Australian Open final triumph.
The Japanese prodigy claimed her first Open crown and the world No.1 ranking with a steely 7-6 (7-2) 5-7 6-4 victory over gallant Czech Petra Kvitova in Saturday night’s winner-takes-all showdown at Melbourne Park.
In denying Kvitova an emotional third grand slam title and securing back-to-back majors of her own, the 21-year-old supplanted Simona Halep to become the youngest player to scale the summit of women’s tennis since Caroline Wozniacki in 2010.
“I’m beyond excited to become the new WTA world No.1,” Osaka said.
“I’ve always dreamt of being in this position.”
Ranked 72nd this time last year, Osaka is also the first woman since Serena Williams in 2015 to land successive majors, backing up her stunning breakthrough over the American superstar in last year’s US Open final with a stylish encore at Rod Laver Arena.
But Osaka’s latest triumph almost never happened, with the temperamental young talent threatening to mentally unravel after blowing three match points in a row with Kvitova serving at 3-5 and love-40 down in the second set.
All up, Osaka lost 18 of 22 points to gift Kvitova a lifeline back into the final.
Fans celebrate just after Naomi Osaka beats Petra Kvitov to win the 2019 Australian Open at a sport bar in Nagoya City, Aichi PrefectureAAP
But Asia’s new sporting superstar regained her cool to take the deciding set, the match, the Daphne Akhurst Memorial Cup and the $4.1 million winner’s cheque after two hours and 27 minutes.
“I just thought to myself that this is my second time playing a (grand slam) final. I can’t really act entitled,” Osaka said.
“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.
“Yeah, 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.
“I can’t let myself act immature in a way. I should be grateful to be here and that is what I tried to be.”
Kvitova hadn’t dropped a set in storming into her first grand-slam final since landing her second Wimbledon crown in 2014.Read More
But she fell victim to Osaka’s fearless stand-and-deliver groundstrokes in a big-hitting and compelling final.
The 28-year-old also had the chance to capture the world’s top ranking, but was gracious in defeat.
Just 25 months ago doctors feared Kvitova would never play again after being stabbed and having her left playing hand – which she described as her “greatest gift” – shredded in a violent attack in her own home.
“This is crazy. I cannot believe I just played the final of a grand slam again,” she said.
“So it was a great final. Well done, Naomi … and congrats for being No.1 as well.”
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