Naomi Osaka seized the Australian Open title and the number one ranking on Saturday after defeating Petra Kvitova 7-6 (7-2), 5-7, 6-4 in a drama-filled battle in which she failed to convert three championship points in the second set.
It makes the 21-year-old Japanese fourth seed the first woman to win back-to-back grand slam titles since Serena Williams in 2015, after Osaka beat Williams in the final of last year's US Open.
She is also the first Asian woman to hold the number one ranking, which she will take over from Romania's Simona Halep on Monday.
Kvitova, a two-time Wimbledon champion, had been playing in her first grand slam final since her racquet hand was severely injured in a 2016 knife attack at her home.
‘Huge congrats to you Petra, I've always wanted to play you and you've been through so much,’ Osaka said as she accepted the Daphne Akhurst Memorial Cup.
‘You're really amazing and I'm really honoured to have played you in the final of a grand slam,’ she added.
Kvitova congratulated Osaka, saying it was a ‘great final’ and ‘you really played well.’ She also addressed her team, saying ‘thank you for sticking with me even [when] we didn't know if I'd be able to hold a racquet again.
‘You were there every single day, supporting me and staying positive for me, which I really needed. It probably wasn't easy so thank you so much.’ After an uncertain start by Osaka, the Japanese settled into her rhythm and took the first set tiebreak, as the Czech eighth seed struggled to deal with the depth and spin of her returns.
Osaka has won the last 59 matches in which she has won the first set, a record that began in 2016.
Kvitova broke Osaka early in the second set to lead 2-0, but the Japanese broke straight back with the help of the netcord and a double fault from the eighth seed.
As Kvitova served to stay in the match at 5-3, Osaka shot ahead 0-40, creating three championship points, all of which the cool-headed Kvitova saved before holding and then breaking back twice to take the second set as Osaka's game crumbled and she double faulted on set point.
The Japanese was in tears as she left the court for a bathroom break but she recovered her poise in the deciding set, breaking early to lead 2-1.
From then on she never looked back, creating three championship points as she served at 5-4, and taking the second on a service winner.
Talking to reporters about how she calmed herself after her second set breakdown, she said, ‘I just thought to myself that this is my second time playing a final. I can't really act entitled.
‘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.’ She also revealed that she had been listening to the song ‘Win’ by Jay Rock before all of her matches at the tournament.
‘I was listening to that because my dad was obnoxiously blasting it during the US Open. I just thought maybe I should keep carrying on the trend. It worked, so...’ she said.
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