Naomi Osaka cemented her status as the dominant force in women’s tennis with a fourth grand slam title at the Australian Open.
The Japanese star reclaimed the title she won in 2019 with a dominant 6-4 6-3 victory over first-time slam finalist Jennifer Brady, maintaining her perfect record in major finals.
The pair had played a superb match in the semi-finals of the US Open last year but this was only briefly a contest after Osaka overcame some early wobbles to clinch the first set.
The 23-year-old remains behind Ashleigh Barty in the rankings because of the temporary switch to a two-year system but there is no doubt Osaka is the best player in the world on hard courts.
She now holds two titles again after winning in New York last September and has extended her winning run to 21 matches, stretching back more than a year, while only Serena and Venus Williams of active players now hold more slam titles.
American Brady, 25, is a late developer who failed to qualify for the tournament two years ago but a strong start to last season persuaded her she could compete with the best players.
She certainly showed that at the US Open, where Osaka had to play what she has described as one of her best matches to stay on track for another grand slam title.
Brady struggled to handle her nerves in her semi-final victory over Karolina Muchova and a poor game allowed Osaka to break for 3-1.
But both women were missing a lot of first serves in breezy conditions and back came Brady to level at 3-3 in a flurry of Osaka errors.
The next four games were the crunch moments of the match as the pair battled for supremacy in this heavy-hitting contest.
Brady withstood pressure to hold for 4-4 but Osaka did the same in the next game and two poor forehands from Brady – the first wildly overhit and the second into the net from inside the service box – gave up the first set.
It was a huge blow for Brady, who had settled into the match well and was enjoying the occasion. That feeling did not last as Osaka cruised into a 4-0 lead in the second set.
Brady composed herself well, firing up her big forehand once more to pull two games back, and threatened to get back into the match.
But Osaka has proved herself a player more than able to handle herself at the biggest occasions and she calmly served out the match to love.
After stepping onto the podium to collect the trophy, Osaka turned to Brady and said: “Firstly I want to congratulate Jennifer.
“We played in the semi-finals of the US Open and I told everyone that would listen that you’re going to be a problem, and I was right. To see your growth over the past few months is really cool.
“I’d like to thank my team. I’ve been with them too long, a month and some change. They’re like my family. They’re the ones with me through my training, through my matches, through my nervous talks before my matches, and I’m really appreciative towards them. This one’s for you.
“Lastly but not least, I want to thank you guys (the fans). Thank you for coming and watching. It feels really incredible. I didn’t play my last grand slam with fans so just to have this energy it really means a lot.
“Thank you for opening your hearts and your arms towards us. For sure I feel like playing a grand slam right now is a super privilege and it’s something I won’t take for granted.”
Brady said: “First I would like to congratulate Naomi on another grand slam title.
“She’s such an inspiration to us all and what she’s doing for the game, getting the sport out there, and I hope young girls at home are watching and are inspired by what she’s doing.
“I would like to say thanks to my team. Without you guys I wouldn’t be standing here tonight so thanks very much for everything you’ve done for me and let’s keep going for more.
“It was special to play in front of fans in my first grand slam final. Hopefully I’m standing on the stage next time with this girl over here (the Daphne Akhurst Memorial Cup) but tonight it wasn’t meant to be. Hopefully there’s many more.”