Naomi Osaka will aim to show there is a new serial champion in town when she takes on Petra Kvitova in the Australian Open final this morning.
The unpredictable nature of the women’s game has been demonstrated by the fact the last eight grand slam titles have all been won by different players.
Should Kvitova triumph, that would become nine from nine, but an Osaka win would not just stop the run but see the 21-year-old become a back-to-back champion after her maiden title at the US Open in New York back in September.
That success was, of course, overshadowed by the dramatic events of the contest against Serena Williams, and the hope must be that, if Osaka wins again, this time it is her moment alone.
Asked why she has seemingly found adjusting to life as a slam winner so straightforward where many others have struggled, Osaka said: “I love grand slams.
“This is a place I think is worth all the training. When you’re little, you watch the grand slams, you watch all the players play the legendary matches here. For me, this is the most important tournament.
I think to have the opportunity to play her for the first time in a final of a grand slam is something very amazingNaomi Osaka
“There’s only four of them a year, so of course I want to do the best that I can.”
Osaka appeared mildly surprised that she had not been more satisfied by her New York success.
Coach Sascha Bajin said: “She really wants it. People say they want it, but she really wants it. We had an unbelievably great season last year but, after having just two weeks’ break, she came back and showed up and really worked her butt off.”
Bajin, formerly Williams’ hitting partner, has played a big role in the development of Osaka since linking up with the Japanese player ahead of the 2018 season.
He has transformed her from a pure power player to one with options and few weaknesses, while her athletic abilities have really stood out both here and in New York.
“If a power hitter can move like someone who is defensive, the opponent’s going to have to play really well,” said the German.
If Osaka has a weakness, it is a tendency to let her head drop when matches are going against her, although she has improved hugely in that regard here.
“I just have to tell her grass is green, water flows, and everything is all right sometimes,” added Bajin.
“Overall, she’s very hard on herself. She has very high expectations.
“She wants to do well. She wants to get better. That’s a good thing. I would not want to have it the other way.”
Unusually, today’s match will be a first career meeting between Osaka and 28-year-old Kvitova, with the added spice that the winner will also take the world No 1 ranking.
“I think to have the opportunity to play her for the first time in a final of a grand slam is something very amazing,” said Osaka.
“I’ve watched her play the Wimbledon finals. I know what a great player she is. It’s definitely going to be very tough for me.”
Osaka’s grand slam record from the very start hinted that she would thrive on the big stage, with only one first-round loss – at the French Open in 2017 – but consistency on the regular tour was an issue and she began last season ranked 68th.
The first – and so far only –WTA Tour title of her career at Indian Wells last March was a major step forward and signalled Osaka was ready to hit the heights expected of her.
Victory today and she will have the world No 1 ranking to go with two grand slam titles. There can be no doubt, Naomi Osaka is the real deal.
On the opposite side of the court, Kvitova is playing in her first slam final outside of Wimbledon, and said of facing Osaka: “Definitely I need to play my best tennis.
“I think Naomi is on fire. She’s an aggressive player, which I am as well.
“So I think it will be about who is going to take the first point and push the other a little bit.”
Kvitova won both her Wimbledon finals, in 2011 and 2014, and has an outstanding record in deciders having won 24 of 31 at tour level, including the last eight.
While much of the attention has been on the fact this is Kvitova’s first slam final since the horrific knife attack in 2016 that almost ended her career, the road before then was not smooth either.
She said: “There were moments and days where I didn’t really think very positively that I can be in the final of a grand slam any more.
“It took me a little while, five years to get there, which is not easy. That’s probably the best thing that I proved, that I didn’t give up.”