Saturday, February 20, 2021

Naomi and Daphne--a friendship that could last

Yesterday, Naomi Osaka became only the second woman in the Open Era to win all of her first four major finals. (She joins Monica Seles in achieving that distinction, and that's always good company to be in.) Osaka defeated Jennifer Brady to win her second Australian Open title, and to further reinforce her role as the Queen of the Hard Courts. 

Brady, for her part, "chose" the classic path of being hampered by nerves in her first major final. Brady's usual reliably deadly serve eluded her way too often, and she was often flummoxed by her opponent's laser-like returns. The more pressure Osaka put on Brady, the harder it was for the 22nd seed to maintain her service games in the manner to which she has become accustomed.

Brady did have her moments, which included breaking Osaka twice, and there were several "if only" points that the world number 3 just wouldn't give up, despite the USA player's best efforts. It took Osaka an hour and seventeen minutes to defeat her opponent 6-4, 6-3, and collect her second Daphne Akhurst Memorial Cup. There is every reason to believe that there are more Daphnes in Naomi's future.

Osaka wasn't the only player who matched a stand-out record. Barbora Krejcikova, playing with Rajeev Ram, became the first player to win three consecutive Australian Open mixed doubles titles since Margaret Court did it 61 years ago. Krejcikova and Ram, seeded sixth, defeated wild cards Sam Stosur and Matthew Ebden 6-1, 6-4.

The Czech doubles star was going for a "hat trick plus" distinction, but she and partner Katerina Siniakova lost the women's doubles final in straight sets (6-2, 6-3) to Elise Mertens and Aryna Sabalenka. Sabalenka will now move to the top of the doubles rankings, and Mertens will be number 2. The pair has decided, however, to significantly cut back on their doubles play because Sabalenka wants to focus on her singles game. It should be noted that Mertens has finally come into her own in singles, so this arrangement could benefit her just as much.

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