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Naomi Osaka Cruises To Win The 2021 Australian Open Tennis Title Over Jenny Brady

By Alix Ramsay

It was the serene and satisfied smile that spread across Naomi Osaka’s face that was the highlight of the evening. She had just swept to her fourth grand slam title, beating Jennifer Brady in straight sets, and she was the Australian Open champion again.

There was no mad celebration, no tears, no jumping up and down – just that smile. She walked slowly over to her team, shook their hands (while standing on a chair to reach them) and handed over her camera to her coach, Wim Fissette, so that he could record the presentation ceremony. But that smile never left her lips.

The 6-4, 6-3 win meant that she has not lost to anyone in the past 12 months. Since tennis restarted last summer, she has won 21 consecutive matches and collected two grand slam trophies. She is undoubtedly the best player in the world at the moment (not that the Covid-adjusted rankings will show it. On Monday she will be the ranking computer’s No.2) and she is still only 23.

Naomi Osaka of Japan holds the trophy after winning the women’s singles final against Jennifer Brady of the United States on day 13 of the Australian Open tennis tournament at Rod Laver Arena in Melbourne, Australia, 20 February 2021. EPA-EFE/DEAN LEWINS

Better still, she is now a member of a very exclusive club: in the Open Era, only Monica Seles and Roger Federer won their first four grand slam finals. She is now the third member of that group – not that she can quite believe it.

“That’s very amazing company,” she said. “I hope that I can, you know, have, like, one grain of how their careers have unfolded. But, you know, you can only wish and you can only just keep going down your own path. But, yeah, it’s definitely something crazy to hear.”

That, though, was the only surprise for her on Saturday. She has not only worked hard on the practice courts and in the gym to get herself to this level, she has also worked hard on growing up.

The first time she won the hardcourt slam double back in 2018 and 2019, she was still a kid. Blinking in the harsh glare of the spotlight, she didn’t know how to react and her moment of dominance was brief. Now she is ready for whatever comes: media commitments, photo shoots and the endless pressure of being expected to perform at her absolute best.

If you have won a couple of slams, people expect you to win every match you play. If you don’t, you are either a failure or you just aren’t trying. But life doesn’t work like that and after getting to the No.1 spot by winning her first Melbourne title, she crumbled under that pressure. She looked as miserable as sin as the results just wouldn’t come. This time around she is ready to play, to fight, to win – and to lose. She is not planning on losing often but she knows that is one of the occupational hazards of being a professional athlete. And she is prepared for it this time.

Naomi Osaka signs autographs after winning the women’s singles final against Jennifer Brady at Rod Laver Arena. EPA-EFE/DEAN LEWINS

“I don’t expect to win all my matches this year,” she said. “Honestly, somebody can give me a medal, anybody can give me a medal, if I win all my matches this year, but I don’t think it’s possible. You know, tennis players, we go through ups and downs. But for me, I only hope that my ups and downs are less drastic this year.

“And I do remember what it feels like to lose a match, very vividly. I remember it here [last year], and I remember how I was feeling and what my mindset was. Honestly, it still makes me sad to this day, so, yeah, it’s quite a lingering memory.

“I think what I have learned on and off the court is it’s okay to not be sure about yourself. For me, I feel like I’ve always forced myself to, like, be “strong” or whatever. I think if you’re not feeling okay, it’s okay to not feel okay.

“But you have to sort of go within yourself and figure things out in a way. For me, that’s what I did during quarantine before US Open last year. That’s what I did when I was in quarantine here, too.”

It seems strange to hear a 23-year-old talk about “when I was a kid” when that phase of her life was only two years ago. But Osaka is a very different woman to the shy, nervous soul who would stand in front of the microphone and not know what to say as she collected the sports biggest prizes.

On Saturday night, she spoke eloquently and engagingly. She started by praising Brady and, before she began, she asked the American whether she liked to be called Jenny or Jennifer. “Jenny” came the reply. So she promptly congratulated “Jennifer”. Coming from anyone else, that would have sounded like a verbal slap.

Jennifer Brady of the United States and Naomi Osaka of Japan hold their trophies after Osaka won the Australian Open women’s singles final. EPA-EFE/DEAN LEWINS

She had probably misheard the response because there does not appear to be a mean bone on Osaka’s body. She is ambitious, she is driven and she works hard but mean? Never. Not for her the aloof stance of the champion (think Maria Sharapova or Serena in her younger days – they didn’t have friends in the locker room, they only had rivals); she plays for her team as much as for herself and she wants them to be a part of every experience.

“I think for me, I have a really hard time thinking about tennis as if it’s just a solo sport,” she said. “I know everyone says tennis is a solo sport, but I have always been surrounded by people that put in so many hours with me, and we do everything together.

“So I would say that — I wouldn’t say it’s selfish or unselfish. I would just say my mindset behind it is wanting to do everything together and wanting to share every experience that I can with the people that sort of do everything with me.”

Osaka’s inability to deal with her position as the best player on the planet two years ago has taught her a lot. She is bright enough to use those experiences to make herself stronger and, more importantly, wiser. That is the sort of foundation that could turn her into a serial champion for years to come.

“I feel like I know how much hard work you have to put into this,” she said, “because the first time that I have won both these trophies I think, in a way, I was just a kid. I didn’t really know what I was doing. I was winning my matches, but I wasn’t really appreciating the moment, the tournament, how hard it is to even get to the position that I’m in right now. So I would say the ups and downs in my career definitely opened my eyes a lot.

“I think there is a difference in my emotions and the way that actually the last time I won here I was kind of playing off anger, in a way. Just because I felt like I wanted to stamp my place on the tour. So I really wanted to win back-to-back US Open and Australian. And this time around I’m more, I would say, at peace with where I am, and I’m honestly just happy to be playing a grand slam in a pandemic. So, yeah, I’m just more peaceful now.”

Peaceful and successful. And with a smile that stretches from ear to ear.