MELBOURNE, Australia - With a second major title and World No.1 on the line, Naomi Osaka stood tall to grab both mantles, capturing the Australian Open crown, 7-6(2), 5-7, 6-4 over two-time Wimbledon winner Petra Kvitova.
Champion at the US Open last summer, the 21-year-old survived a mid-match hiccup to extend her Grand Slam match winning streak to 14 straight - and became the first maiden major champion to win two in a row since Jennifer Capriati in 2001 - after two hours and 27 minutes on Rod Laver Arena.
“I mean, for me, I feel like it hasn't really sunk in,” Osaka told press afterward. “Maybe in the next tournament I play, if I see the No. 1 next to my name, I'll feel something. But for now, I'm more happy that I won this trophy.”
Osaka put on a near-flawless display in her thrilling semifinal victory over Karolina Pliskova, and was similarly steely to start against Kvitova, who was playing her first major final since 2014 with a chance to become the oldest woman to debut World No.1.
The big-hitting duo exchanged body blows from the baseline and defended their serves from a total of eight break points - two of which doubled as set points for Osaka at 6-5 - to force a first set tie-break.
The turning point came when Osaka blasted a backhand return winner to grab the first mini-break, riding that momentum through the sudden death to find herself in pole position to win a 60th straight match after taking the opening set.
Kvitova nonetheless began the second set on more confident footing, breaking first with points for a 3-0 lead, but Osaka quickly flipped the script, racing out to a 5-3 lead.
Returning for the title, the Japanese star engineered three championship points at 0-40. Kvitova saved all three - one with a seeringly signature forehand winner - and forced Osaka to serve for that second Slam trophy.
Nerves appeared to take their toll for the youngster as the more experienced Kvitova stepped in to earn two straight service breaks - all while saving a break point at 5-5 - to win five straight games and level the match.
“Last year I lost in the fourth round,” Osaka recalled, speaking of losing the second set. “Now this year I was in the final, so I wanted to be happy about that and just basically have no regrets about today.
“I just thought to myself that this is my second time playing a final. I can't really act entitled. To be playing against one of the best players in the world, to lose a set, suddenly think that I'm so much better than her that that isn't a possibility…”
Osaka soon steadied early in the decider, nabbing the first break behind a big backhand winner and took another 0-40 lead at 4-2.
Again, Kvitova tapped into her best tennis at her moment of most jeopardy, saving all three break points, but a missed volley helped Osaka get within one game of victory.
Serving for the match a second time, Osaka made no mistakes, blasting another backand to book three more championship points, securing it on her second to become Asia's first World No.1.
“Like, I had dreams that I would win this tournament, you know?,” Osaka said. “Every time I have a dream, somehow I accomplish it, I still feel like it's a very strange moment. Like, I feel like I'm living right now, but it's not necessarily real, if that makes sense.”
In all, Osaka struck 33 winners to 33 unforced errors, a whopping 9 aces while maintaining a solid 76% winning percentage behind her first serve. Kvitova posted equally aggressive numbers with 33 winners and 39 unforced errors of her own, but came up just short in what was nonetheless a renaissance fortnight for the Czech veteran.
“It's hurting a lot today,” Kvitova acknowledged in her press conference. “I wanted to win and have the trophy. But I think I already won two years ago. So for me, it's amazing.
“I mean, I've been through many, many things, not really great ones. I didn't know if I going to hold the racquet again. I'm holding it, so that's good. Still few things which I can improve, and we'll do it.
“So it's not the end. Yeah, I be back for sure.”