Naomi Osaka and Petra Kvitova battled on Rod Laver Arena not just for the women's championship at the Australian Open, but also for the right to become the new world number one. In the end, it was Osaka who came out of the two and a half hour epic with a 7-6 (2), 5-7, 6-4 win.
The 21-year old claims her second straight major title and 14th straight match win at the Grand Slams while becoming the first Asian player to hold the top spot in the rankings. For Kvitova, she will become world number two after a valiant effort that saw her come up a few points short.
Osaka takes tense first set in a tiebreaker
Both women looked strong on serve until the fifth game when Osaka had to save a pair of break points and again in the seventh game after Kvitova built a 0-40 lead, but made three straight unforced errors allowing the Japanese to escape again.
The Czech was tasked with serving to stay in the set twice, holding easily to love the first time, but staring down two set points when trailing 6-5. She erased the first with a winner and the second with an unforced error for Osaka.
The set would be decided in a tiebreak where the world number four showed her prowess off of both wings, gaining the first minibreak with a backhand winner for a 2-0 lead and a second with the forehand for a 5-1 advantage, eventually closing out the breaker by a 7-2 score.
Kvitova comes through late to stunningly take second set
Kvitova was again presented the chance to break in Osaka's first service game of the second set, but a scorching forehand on her second opportunity put her up 2-0, but a double fault on break point in her next service game put the set back on serve.
The Japanese was again dialed in and at 0-40, Kvitova played a drop shot that fell just wide to hand Osaka the break and a 3-2 lead. The Czech continued to leak errors at this point, wasting a 0-30 lead on the Japanese's next service game.
Another more forceful hold made it 5-3 to Osaka and she was speeding towards the title, 0-40 and three championship points on the offing. The two-time Wimbledon played her best tennis of the match, winning 18 of the last 22 points of the set to win it 7-5 and force a deciding third set.
Osaka takes the title in close third set
An off-court break in between sets to gather herself seemed to do the trick for Osaka as she held to 15 and proceeded to rip a backhand cross court for a winner to take the early lead at 2-1. She saved a break point in the sixth game for a 4-2 lead.
As in the second set, the fourth seed held 0-40 on Kvitova's serve, but the Czech again fought them all off to hold and stay in touch at 4-3. Uncomplicated holds by both put the set at 5-4 in Osaka's favor as she served for the championship.
After racing out to a 40-0 love lead, Osaka saw a fourth championship point disappear before clinching the title on her fifth when Kvitova hit a forehand well out, the 21-year old becoming the first player since Jennifer Capriati in 2001 to follow up her first Grand Slam championship with her second.