Two. The number of players that took the court Saturday in Petra Kvitova and Naomi Osaka. One. Only one woman would stand tall as the Australian Open champion and leave Melbourne as the top player in the world.
With Osaka holding three championship points while returning, Kvitova played her best tennis while down as the Japanese number one faltered in the crucial moments to send it into a deciding set. The championship was on her racquet this time in set three, and Osaka did not let down, holding on for a 7-6(2), 5-7, 6-4 victory.
With the win, Osaka becomes the first player since Jennifer Capriati to successfully back up her first major title by winning the following one and becomes the first Asian to hold world number one.
Let's Get Down To Business
Osaka put her serve right into the strike zone on the Kvitova backhand who found the corner of the service box twice for winners. With the Czech looming, Osaka fought off two break points and earned a chance to pull ahead in the first the following game. The eighth-seeded Czech got Osaka on the run and held for three-all.
The US Open champion was struggling with her first serve which put Kvitova in prime position to break again. A 0-40 lead quickly evaporated with three straight misses as Osaka escaped for a 4-3 lead after landing only two first serves.
A drama-free service game is what the doctor ordered for Osaka, holding to love to put the pressure on Kvitova to stay in the set. The Czech showed she was more than just power but had finesse as well, pulling off a couple of drop shots.
The two played the point of the match by far which had both women on the run, and Kvitova off the court at times. Kvitova managed to steal the point with a net cord drop shot winner but was still tasked with trying to hold for a tiebreak the following game.
Osaka played her best return game by far, earning break and set point. On the second serve, Kvitova delivered by going big and punishing a forehand winner down the line. The same forehand which saved the set point closed the game out and sent it to a tiebreak.
The first mini-break of the breaker went to Osaka who pulled out a backhand return winner to go up 2-0. The wide serve was the weapon of choice for Kvitova, but the world number four read it and passed on the poor approach from the Czech for a commanding 5-1 lead. No mistake from Osaka closing the set and breaker out, 7-2.
Go The Distance
After missing five break points in the first set and one in Osaka's first service game, Kvitova scorched a forehand return to for her first break and lead of the match. Kvitova looked to be in control for an opportunity to go up 3-0. The world number four continued to hang tough in the game and a double-fault put the set back on serve.
Kvitova offered some deep groundstrokes and returns, but Osaka was up to sending them back as she hit a backhand cross-court winner to level for 2-2. That wide, tailing lefty serve began to disappear from the Czech as Osaka began to read it more and more. With three break points in hand, the US Open champion needed only one to go up 3-2.
Two errors gave Kvitova an opening at 0-30, however, four straight misses from Kvitova consolidated the break for Osaka who moved ahead 4-2. The eight seed showed symptoms of tired legs, lunging for shots. A backhand winner made it 3-4, but Osaka shrugged off those early service troubles to move within four points of going back-to-back Grand Slams.
If there was ever a time to red line your game, returning for a Grand Slam would be the ideal time for it. Osaka hit some stunning winners for three championship points, but the resolve from Kvitova showed as she forced Osaka to serve for the match.
Three championship points missed the previous game were rued by Osaka who played her tightest game to put the set back on serve. Kvitova saved another break point with a forehand winner and put the set in Osaka’s hand for another tiebreak. It all began to unravel for Osaka who looked upset with herself and made simple mistakes which led to a surprising final set.
Second Chance Is The Charm
After letting the title slip from her hands, Osaka held to 15 for one-all which would give her confidence. She broke Kvitova in the third with a backhand cross-court winner but still showed no emotion after knowing what happened 10 minutes ago.
Osaka saved break point in the sixth game and once again had triple break point, just like the previous set. While these weren't match points, Kvitova continued to play inspired tennis while down to reel off five straight points once again to keep the pressure on the world number four.
An ace and a forehand winner down the line put Osaka two points within the match. Although the first of her three championship points were saved, Osaka would not let this one slip, coming through to clinch back-to-back Grand Slam titles.