February 20, 2021

The Year of Naomi

February 7, 2020.

That was the last time Naomi Osaka lost a match. And given how she played over the past two weeks at the Australian Open, it sure feels like the date will stand for some time longer.

Osaka captured her fourth Grand Slam title Saturday in Melbourne, tying her with Kim Clijsters in the Major record books and putting her just one trophy behind Maria Sharapova. And at just 23 years of age, she's got plenty of time to add to her numbers.

Her run over the last year is certainly something to be admired. Sure, her loss-less span is somewhat technical -- she, and everyone else, didn't play for nearly seven months after that defeat in the Fed Cup qualies due to the lockdown, and she did pull out of the Western & Southern final as well as the Gippsland draw ahead of the Open. But she's still accomplished so much over that period, not all of it on court, and has become a better player for it.

During her time in Melbourne she did face challenges, saving match points against last year's runner-up Garbiñe Muguruza in the fourth round, but pulled off a sound win in the semis over Serena Williams, who has as many Major trophies as Osaka has years behind her. And in Saturday's championship she was just as unstoppable.

Jennifer Brady, who had her breakthrough last year in New York, was playing in her first ever Grand Slam final. She was the only player subject to the hard quarantine who made it out of the third round, and though she never faced an opponent ranked in the top twenty-five during her campaign, she was still playing solid ball through the final. But while she had the opportunity to be the second straight American to win the crown here, she could never quite get a handle on the heavy favorite and eventually fell in straight sets.

The win cements Osaka's position at the very top of the sport and serves to show just how much she's grown from that maiden Slam win more than three years ago. Of course there's still a lot more left to accomplish -- her win streak was further aided by the fact that she stuck with hard courts, either by choice or by circumstances, and the true test of her tennis versatility will come when and if she is tested on the clay and grass, neither of which have given her the most success in the past.

But if one thing is clear from what we've seen over the young star, it's that she's got a lot more power and fight than she lets on, and something tells me those big wins are still to come. And it's not hard to believe that she'll be in the race for some of the biggest records in the sport soon.

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