MELBOURNE, Australia (AP) — So close to victory, Naomi Osaka suddenly was letting the Australian Open final slip away. Three championship points? Gone. A sizable lead? Soon all gone, too.
She was playing poorly. She yelled at herself. Slammed a ball. Tugged at her visor’s pink brim. Trudged to the locker room between sets with a towel draped over her head.
And then, after returning to the court, Osaka turned it all around just as quickly as she had dropped 23 of 27 points. Regrouping and reasserting herself, Osaka edged Petra Kvitova 7-6 (2), 5-7, 6-4 on Saturday night to win the Australian Open for a second consecutive Grand Slam title.
On top of that, Osaka will rise to No. 1 in the rankings.
Almost didn’t happen, though, against two-time Wimbledon champion Kvitova.
Osaka held three match points in the second set at 5-3, love-40 as Kvitova served. But Osaka couldn’t close it out. Instead, she completely lost her way.
That allowed Kvitova to come back and make a match of it, reeling off five games in a row to take the second set and go up 1-0 in the third.
Hard as it must have been, Osaka recovered. She also got her powerful shots going again. After Kvitova double-faulted to offer up a break point at 1-all, Osaka converted it with a cross-court backhand winner. There was still more work to be done, of course, and some additional drama when it began raining at the changeover right before Osaka tried to serve for the match at 5-4 in the third set.
This time, Osaka would not falter. She would not let this lead disappear.
Osaka added the Australian Open trophy to the one she collected in a U.S. Open final last September that forever will be remembered for the way runner-up Serena Williams was docked a game after arguing with the chair umpire.
Unlike that day, there was no jeering from the confused crowd. No controversy. No chaos. No sharing the spotlight.
Clearly marking herself as tennis’ bright new star, Osaka is the first woman to win two major championships in a row since Williams picked up four straight in 2014-15.