Naomi Osaka’s record in Grand Slam finals is copious. Intimidating even. On Saturday, the 23-year-old plays her fourth major final, she has won her previous three, including one at Melbourne Park two years ago.
Osaka equated finals to a big fight. The biggest. “I have this mentality that people don’t remember the runner-up. You might, but the winner’s name is the one that’s engraved,” the Japanese said. “I fight the hardest in finals. That’s where you set yourself apart.”
Osaka, seeded three, will face first-time Slam finalist American Jennifer Brady, the world number 24, in what promises to be an explosive match-up.
Osaka flaunted her metal in fighting off match points against the former No.1 Garbine Muguruza in the fourth round. Brady showcased her own steel in serving out her semifinals, a nervy tenth game of the deciding set.
More importantly, the American is one of 51 players in the Australian Open singles draw, who were confined to their hotel room for 14 days, in her case it was 15, as she was on a chartered flight into Melbourne where a passenger tested positive. She’s the only one into the second week.
Brady tried to stay positive behind closed doors, meeting each day with her best. She and her team, coach Michael Geserer and physio Daniel Pohl, were given two small rooms with a connecting door for those 15 days.
Geserer said Brady worked out every day. “The mattress was on the wall. Daniel threw balls. She could at least feel the ball on the racquet. We just tried to make the best out of the situation,” he explained. “It helped that we never thought one second of complaining.”
Brady — who played collegiate tennis for the University of California, Los Angeles, and was part of their victorious 2014 team – has lost all her three meetings to Osaka. In their most recent contest, September’s US Open semifinals, Osaka came through in three tight sets.
Brady’s personality like her play is sans frills or fuss. The 25-year-old spoke freely about nerves, as simply as she had set aside title hopes in a Melbourne hotel room a month ago, when she received an email informing her of her hard quarantine.
“I can enjoy the moment, just try to play tennis and not really think too much about it,” she said of her maiden major final. “But there’s gonna be moments, there’s gonna be games, where I’m going to be thinking, ‘wow! This could be my first Grand Slam title!’ I will have those thoughts, but it’s more about trying to control the emotions.”
* Osaka beat Brady in three sets in the semifinals of last year’s US Open.
* Brady is the seventh woman to reach her maiden Grand Slam final in the past nine majors.
* Osaka has won all three previous Grand Slam finals she has contested, US Open (2018 and 2020), and Aus Open (2019).
* Brady is projected to break into the Top-15 in the new rankings.
* Osaka has not lost a match in over a year.
* Brady has faced only two players ranked inside Top-50 en route to the final.