MELBOURNE, Australia (AP) — Like the 21-year-old she is, Naomi Osaka stepped into Rod Laver Arena for the Australian Open final with a cellphone in her right hand and music in both ears.
The headphones she wore carried the swirling brass, bouncing beat and boastful lyrics of Jay Rock’s “Win,” the same pre-match song Osaka listened to throughout the tournament — and at last year’s U.S. Open, too.
“You might wanna keep score,” the rapper says. “I win, win, win, win.”
Right now, that’s how Osaka is living at tennis’ most important events. Her championship at Melbourne Park, via a 7-6 (2), 5-7, 6-4 victory over Petra Kvitova on Saturday night, gave Osaka two straight Grand Slam trophies.
Just a few hours later, she found herself discussing such matters as what her goals are now — answer: winning the upcoming hard-court stops in Indian Wells and Miami — and whether it’s too soon to think about being halfway to collecting four consecutive majors.
“The way the tennis world is, there’s always the next tournament, the next Slam, and we all just want to keep training hard and winning more,” said Osaka, who was born in Japan and moved to the U.S. at age 3. “So I’m not really sure if I’m satisfied.”
Heady stuff for someone who already has accomplished so much in such a short amount of time.
A year ago, Osaka was ranked 72nd.
She had lost by the third round in seven of her eight appearances at Grand Slam tournaments. The lone exception was a fourth-round run at the Australian Open in January 2018. That’s as far as she’d been by then.
So Osaka was getting impatient.
Look at her now.
She is the first woman with back-to-back major championships since Serena Williams — the player Osaka beat in the U.S. Open final last September — captured four in a row from 2014 to 2015.
Osaka also guaranteed that she will ascend to No. 1 in the WTA rankings for the first time Monday, making her the youngest player to hold the top spot since Caroline Wozniacki was 20 in 2010.
Does it feel as if this all happened really quickly?
“I mean, to me, it doesn’t. I guess looking from the outside, from your guys’ view, it does,” Osaka said. “For me, every practice and every match that I’ve played, it feels like the year is short and long at the same time. But I’m aware of all the work that I put in. I know all the sacrifices that every player does to stay at this level. I mean, in my opinion, it didn’t feel fast. It felt kind of long.”
Maybe. But her growth as a player and a competitor has been so swift.
She won four three-setters in Melbourne.
She beat a trio of top-10 women.
Then there was the way Osaka pulled herself together after failing to convert three championship points at 5-3 in the second set against Kvitova, much as she ignored all the chaos surrounding the final against Williams at Flushing Meadows.
“As a whole, this tournament was very eye-opening for me,” Osaka said as Saturday turned to Sunday in Melbourne. “I had a lot of matches that were very tough and I was behind in some of them. I think it showed me that I could win matches from behind, just on willpower alone.”
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