Tennis: Djokovic and Osaka add to their grand slam tallies

Japan’s Naomi Osaka holds the Daphne Akhurst Memorial Cup aloft after defeating United States Jennifer Brady in the women’s singles final at the Australian Open tennis championship in Melbourne, Australia, Saturday, Feb. 20, 2021. Photo by Andy Brownbill/AP Photo.

Novak Djokovic and Naomi Osaka continued to build on their legacies with victories at this year’s Australian Open. Both players displayed great athleticism and tenacity en route to the championship. They each faced adversity midway through the tournament but didn’t let anything get in their way of coming out on top. 

Osaka had a 2-1 head-to-head edge against Jennifer Brady, with Brady’s lone victory coming more than six years ago when both players were ranked outside the top 100. The two faced off in a thrilling U.S. Open semifinal this past September. Osaka was able to pull through with 7-6, 3-6, 6-3 in what was one of the most entertaining matches of the tournament. The Australian Open final marked Osaka’s fourth grand slam final, while it was the first grand slam final appearance for Brady.  

Both Brady and Osaka came out of the gates swinging. They pounded well-placed serves and each held in their opening service game. Each woman tried to end the point early, setting up blistering groundstrokes off of their serves. The first break of serve went to Osaka when Brady played a loose service game and got broken at love. The American didn’t panic, she matched Osaka’s immense power in the baseline rallies and broke right back. Brady followed the break of serve with a love hold to draw the match level at three games all. 

Both players continued to go for the lines and kept the rallies fairly short. Osaka had a break point opportunity during Brady’s fourth service game, but the American squeezed out of the set, tying the match once again at 4-4. The 22nd seed had a chance to break Osaka in the following game and serve for the first set, but Osaka fended off the opportunity and held serve. Brady looked to be cruising at 40-15 in her fifth service game, but Osaka took advantage of a few unforced errors by the American to steal the game and first set 6-4. 

In the opening set, Brady struck 10 winners and 18 unforced errors, while Osaka fired eight winners and 15 unforced errors. The first set was incredibly close, but the Osaka’s experience allowed her to stay calm and lift the game during the final stages of the set. 

The third seed carried her momentum from the end of the first set into the second set. She began to dictate play more and put Brady’s serve under a ton of pressure. Brady’s level of play dropped significantly in the second set, as her groundstrokes began missing the court more frequently. Osaka jumped out to a 4-0 lead in the second set and was well on her way to her fourth grand slam title. Brady was able to get one of the two breaks back and followed it with a hold of serve to bring the score to 4-2 in favor of Osaka. Serving at 5-3, Osaka emphatically held serve at love to clinch her fourth grand slam title. 

With the victory, Osaka bumped up to No. 2 in the world. The title moved her to third among active women’s players in grand slam singles triumphs; with four she only trails Serena Williams (23) and Venus Williams (7). Osaka’s victory also marked the eighth time in WTA history that a player has won a grand slam from match points down; she saved two match points in her fourth-round match against Garbine Muguruza.  

Serbia’s Novak Djokovic holds the Norman Brookes Challenge Cup after defeating Russia’s Daniil Medvedev in the men’s singles final at the Australian Open tennis championship in Melbourne, Australia, Sunday, Feb. 21, 2021. Photo by Andy Brownbill/AP Photo.

Heading into the men’s final, Djokovic held a slight 4-3 head-to-head advantage over Daniil Medvedev, including a 3-1 edge on outdoor hardcourts. To make his ninth Australian Open final, Djokovic had to survive an injury scare. During the third set of his third-round match against American Taylor Fritz, the world’s best player slipped and suffered an abdominal tear. Djokovic could not put as much on his serve and was clearly in pain throughout the rallies. The top seed dropped the third and fourth sets, but he was able to dominate the fifth set and advance to the second week. Djokovic fought through his injury during the few  rounds and said he was feeling significantly better ahead of the final. 

The first set of the men’s final was extremely tight. Djokovic jumped out to a 3-0 lead, but Medvedev quickly tied things at three games all. Both men were putting in tons of first serves and were winning a large majority of their first-serve points. Each player held serve easily until the very end of the set. With Medvedev serving at 5-6, Djokovic darted out to a 0-40 lead  and took the first set 7-5 after converting his third break point of the game. In the highly competitive first set, Djokovic struck 12 winners and committed seven unforced errors, while Medvedev hit the same amount of winners and committed two more unforced errors than Djokovic. 

Medvedev broke Djokovic’s serve to start the second set, but that was his the only promising aspect of the second set. After the opening game, Djokovic began to run the No. 4 seed all over the court and took control of the match. Medvedev was struggling to find the court with his groundstrokes, even on his usually reliable backhand. After 36 minutes, Djokovic took the second set 6-2 and was a set away from his 18th major title.  

Medvedev fell behind 3-0 to start the third set and never recovered. Djokovic continued to serve well and pounce on the Russian’s second serve. Medvedev gifted Djokovic 13 unforced errors in the third set and had no answers for his extraordinary play. After almost two hours on the court, Djokovic wrapped up his ninth Australian Open crown with a 7-5, 6-2, 6-2 victory.  

Djokovic’s victory marked his 18th major championship and brought him closer to Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer’s record of 20 grand slam singles titles. The Serbian remains undefeated in Australian Open finals and has cemented a strong grip on the No. 1 ranking. Djokovic will look to come within one grand slam title of his rivals when the French Open kicks off this May. 

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