Australian Open final preview and prediction: Naomi Osaka vs Jennifer Brady

A thrilling Australian Open is set to reach its climax over the weekend, with the women’s singles final promising to deliver big things.

There have been fightbacks, tears, injuries, shocks, complaints over faulty technology – this tournament really has had it all, and the jewel in the crown may well be yet to come.

Naomi Osaka, the three-times Grand Slam champion from Japan, and Jennifer Brady, the 22nd seed from the USA, have been consistently among the best hard-courters over the past six months and will do battle for the second time in the latter stages of a Slam.

If the first is anything to go by, this could be a classic.

Brady, then playing in her first Slam semi-final, took the match to eventual champion Osaka in a hard-hitting contest that ebbed and flowed.

‘It’s easily one of my most memorable matches,’ said Osaka after eliminating Serena Williams in the semi-finals. ‘I think it was just super high quality throughout.’

This time, as Brady points out. There’s even more on the line. She is within touching distance of a first major title.

‘Listen, I don’t know how I’m gonna feel on Saturday,’ said Brady, 25, after downing Karolina Muchova in three sets.

‘I can say I can enjoy the moment and just try to play tennis and not really think too much about it, but there’s gonna be moments, there’s gonna be games, there’s gonna be points where I’m going to be thinking about, “Wow, this could be my first Grand Slam title”.

‘Yeah, I will definitely have those thoughts. But it’s more just trying to control the emotions, really.

‘I think we both played a really good semi-final match at the US Open. Unfortunately there were no fans, but the next time we play there will be fans. So I think that’s going to be something that’s going to be extremely exciting.’

This may only be their fourth professional meeting – Osaka has won their most recent tour-level meetings and leads their overall head-to-head 2-1 – but the pair have known about each other for a long time.

‘Actually, we grew up playing junior local tournaments in Florida,’ said Brady. ‘Both her and her sister I played in the juniors, local, like, Super Series events, just like USTA-sanctioned tournaments.

‘I remember playing her in this tournament, it may have been like a lower-level challenger event. I think she was just coming up maybe inside the top 200, and I remember playing her. I was, like, “Wow, she hits the ball huge. She’s gonna be good”. I mean, I was, like, “Okay, she’s got something special”.’ 

And so it proved. Osaka, 23, is the highest-paid female athlete on the planet and is already targeting a fourth Grand Slam win.

To date, she has not lost a match in the quarter-finals of a major or beyond, including three finals wins.

‘For me, I have this mentality that people don’t remember the runners up,’ said Osaka. ‘You might, but the winner’s name is the one that’s engraved.

‘I think I fight the hardest in the finals. I think that’s where you sort of set yourself apart. It’s the other person won as many matches as you did. It’s something that I think – I don’t know, it’s like the biggest fight.’

Her opponent has shown she’s gutsy, too. And has had to overcome much more disruption in the buildup to the Australian Open.

While Osaka was among the world’s best players enjoying cushier quarantine conditions in Adelaide, Brady was part of the 72-player group thrust into “hard quarantine”, losing her daily practice privileges for a two-week hotel room confinement.

The reaction of some players made international news headlines, but Brady quietly kept herself to herself and focused on what she could control.

‘A lot of people were complaining and I told myself I wasn’t going to complain. I mean, there’s way worse things going on in the world than me being stuck in a hotel room for 14 days,’ she said.

Routes to the Australian Open semi-finals

Naomi Osaka

R1: 6-1 6-2 Pavlyuchenkova
R2: 6-2 6-3 Garcia
R3: 6-3 6-2 Jabeur
R4: 4-6 6-4 7-5 Muguruza
QF: 6-2 6-2 Hsieh
SF: 6-3 6-4 Williams

Jennifer Brady

R1: 6-1 6-3 Bolsova Zadoinov
R2: 6-1 6-2 Brengle
R3: 6-1 6-3 Juvan
R4: 6-1 7-5 Vekic
QF: 4-6 6-2 6-1 Pegula
SF: 6-4 3-6 6-4 Muchova

‘Tennis Australia provided us with a bike. The last few days I had a treadmill. I had weights. I was able to train to work out. It was a small hotel room, but I was able to do everything that I needed to do to stay as fit as possible.

‘If I started feeling bad for myself or started complaining, I think it would have made the 14 days a lot harder than it was. There were a couple of us that were pretty positive and tried to each day just be like, okay, only five more days and, yeah, we’re out.’

She added: ‘I think I used that two weeks to kind of reset mentally and also physically, just give myself, my mind, my body a little bit of a rest. Yeah, I would say I didn’t really have high expectations on myself to do well.

‘I came out of the quarantine, and then we were lucky enough to have a separate tournament for us who were in the hard lockdown. I was lucky to get a couple matches in there before starting here in the Australian Open.’

Of course, none of that matters when the first ball is struck on Saturday. Both players have big weapons and momentum after incredible runs at the last-two hard-court Slams.

Brady wasn’t fazed by her first appearance in a Grand Slam semi-final last year and there’s little suggest she won’t be able to handle the occasion.

‘I think I can take away the positives from that match and learn maybe what I did wrong that, you know, I wasn’t able to come away with the result,’ said Brady when asked if she would draw on that defeat ahead of the rematch.

‘But also no, because I also don’t want to compare matches or compare performances and try to replicate that, because every match is different.’

Naomi Osaka vs Jennifer Brady

Head-to-head

Osaka 2-1 Brady

Grand Slam titles won

Osaka 3-0 Brady

WTA titles

Osaka 6-1 Brady

Current ranking (including Aus Open results)

Osaka 3-13 Brady

Ranking with title

Osaka 2-12 Brady

There are few questions that Osaka, who has proven herself to be one of the most clutch players in the sport, will handle the occasion. And questions will turn to how much she can achieve if she does get over the line on Sunday.

Should she win the title, she will be just one major win behind the likes of Maria Sharapova and Martina Hingis – another sign of the greatness Osaka can surely go on to achieve.

‘I’m living the life, you know? It’s hard to view what you’re doing outside of your body,’ she said. ‘You know what I mean, if that makes sense?

‘So I never really look at stats or achievements or anything like that. I’m the type of person that’s always trying to go on to the next thing, which may be bad or good.

‘Yeah, I feel like maybe later in my life I’ll appreciate the things that I’ve done more. But as of right now, I feel like I’m chasing records that can’t be broken no matter how hard I try. So, yeah, I think it’s the human trait of not being satisfied.’

It will come as no surprise that I’m sticking with my pre-tournament pick of Osaka. There hasn’t been a straightforward round for the Japanese No. 1 and yet she has dropped just one set.

Even in her only moments of true adversity, facing match points against Garbine Muguruza in the quarter-finals, Osaka remained as ice cool as ever. It will take a huge effort to get over the line against her.

Brady will give as good as she gets and may take a set off the third seed, but expect Osaka to win Slam title No. 4. There will surely be plenty more to come.

Prediction: Naomi Osaka to win the Australian Open in straight sets

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