Naomi Osaka by Charlie Cowins/flickr.com

Many tennis players dream of being able to play in a championship final. They hope to compete against the best and prove their mettle to the world, solidifying their position as best or No1. Naomi Osaka and Petra Kvitova are two athletes that won 5 matches each and these wins allowed them to advance to the final stage of the Australian open -Women’s singles.

The world was watching on 26, January 2019 when both women were to play the finals match. Osaka, in particular, was watched keenly as many spectators wondered if she could continue with her winning streak. She won her first grand slam in September 2018. This was after she played and won the US Open finals match against 23-time grand slam winner, Serena Williams.

A disagreement between Williams and the Chair Umpire, Carlos Ramos marred what was supposed to be a joyous moment. Despite her victory at the US Open finals, the crowd jeered and booed. Osaka’s success was overshadowed with arguments for or against William’s stance in the debacle.

However, at the Australian Open finals, no one was thinking about the events that occurred at the US open finals. Instead, the spectators and viewers wondered if Osaka could play with the same tenacity that she had used to win previous matches. This question lingered because she was to play Kvitova who overcame adversity to resume playing tennis. 

From the start, the finals match was dramatic; both players showed focus and consistency. Both athletes made exchanges at the baseline, and this made the match a battle for the quick. Osaka won the first set with 7-6 match points.

The second set though, was where Kvitova made a comeback and showed she was a worthy and formidable opponent.

Despite Osaka’s dominance at the start of the second set, the athlete failed to take advantage of three match points.  Kvitova, on the other hand, proceeded to make three consecutive games in a row and she won the second set, 7-5. Notably, the set point that led to Kvitova’s win in the second set was caused by a double fault on Osaka’s part.

As Kvitova gained three match points consecutively and took the 2nd set, it was clear that the winner of the Australian Open finals could be Kvitova.  Osaka would have to summon physical and mental strength to win the game. Furthermore, the game could go either way as both women showed resilience on the court.

There was a short bathroom break after the 2nd set, and in that time, the spectators were left to wonder, the tension in the air was thick. Both athletes were respected players who had shown consistency and strength in previous matches.

Osaka was born in Japan but moved to New York, America at the age of 3. Despite having a Haitian father and living in America since she was a toddler, Osaka chose to represent Japan.

Osaka began playing professionally in 2013 at the age of 16. However, Osaka won her first grand slam at the age of 21 when she took the US opens finals match against Serena Williams. Winning the US Open- Women Singles in September 2018 made Osaka the first player representing Japan to win a Grand slam title- singles.

In contrast to Osaka, Kvitova previously won 2 Wimbledon championships. She won her first Wimbledon championship in 2011 and the second in 2014.

Kvitova was the victim of a home invasion in 2016. The burglar who entered her home in Prostejov stabbed her in her left hand (her playing hand). The damage done to her playing hand was notable. Some tendons were severed, and Kvitova suffered nerve damage. Due to the significance of the injuries she sustained, her doctor doubted that she would play tennis again. Even if she did return, it was unlikely that she would play at the same level in which she played before. 

Hence, her return to the Australian open and consequent advancement to the finals after a break was surprising and applauded.

After a short bathroom break that followed the 2nd set, Osaka returned to the court, and while Kvitova took the initial lead, Osaka persevered. She showed growth in her playing, learning from the mistakes she had made previously. Despite her young age, Osaka played like a seasoned athlete.

Osaka took the deciding set with a 6-4 victory. However, It was not an easy win as Kvitova fought back relentlessly. The finals match lasted 2 hours and 27 minutes.

At the trophy ceremony, Osaka graciously stated how honoured she was to have played Kvitova. She also said that while she had always wanted to play Kvitova, she did not expect that the Australian Open finals would be their first meeting.

Similarly, Kvitova congratulated Osaka on her win and stated how grateful she was to get to the Australian Open finals. This in itself was a huge victory that had has placed her at No. 2 in the WTA rankings. 

Osaka’s win at the Australian Open made her the first singles player representing Japan to win the Australian Open. Her US and Australian open wins shot her from the No. 72 to  No. 1. in Women’s tennis. This made Osaka the first Asian to be No 1 in the WTA  Rankings and the youngest female No.1 player since Caroline Wozniacki achieved that feat in 2010.

Osaka’s win at the Australian open also made her the first maiden grand slam winner to win two titles consecutively since 2001 when Jennifer Capriati achieved this.

Indeed, Osaka’s victory at the Australian open created many ‘firsts’. These ‘firsts’ emphasise the enormity of her win on the 26th of January 2019. 

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