Naomi Osaka says no one remembers a loser – and she doesn’t intend to be one when she tries to win a fourth Grand Slam crown against Jennifer Brady in the Open final from Australia on Saturday. A second trophy at Melbourne Park would mean the 23-year-old Japanese have won half of the majors she’s played since her first US Open final in 2018 – a match infamous for Serena Williams’ implosion. Osaka’s demolition of Williams in the semi-finals on Thursday ended the 39-year-old’s latest attempt to win an elusive record tying the 24th Slam title and reinforced the belief that a new generation is taking over from the American.
Osaka is at the forefront of the young wave and attributes a new mental maturity to being able to fight through matches under the highest pressure.
And she had a warning for 22nd-seeded American Brady ahead of the final.
“I have this mentality that people don’t remember the finalists,” she said.
“I think I fight the hardest in the final. I think that’s where you kind of stand out.”
Osaka is the favorite against Brady, who is making her Grand Slam final debut after being forced into a harsh 14-day quarantine before the Australian Open, where she was confined to her hotel room and unable to s ‘train.
The pair first met as juniors in Florida seven years ago when Brady won.
Since then, Osaka have won both matches, their rivalry reaching new heights in the second of those epic US Open semi-finals last year.
The future champion Osaka won 7-6 (7/1), 3-6, 6-3 in a grueling encounter, dubbed by some as the best game of the truncated 2020 season.
“Was probably (in) the best two games I’ve played in my life,” Osaka said of the classic at Flushing Meadows.
“I think (the) games I remember the most when I am going through a very difficult time – I think about this game a lot.”
‘She hits huge’
Third seed Osaka believes she has honed her game since then which will be crucial in blunting the strong-serving American.
“I’m playing a little different now,” said Osaka, who is running a 20-game unbeaten streak in 12 months.
“I think my feedback is better. I can’t base everything entirely on this game, but it’s definitely something to benchmark.”
Brady, 25, did not face a top-ranked player in her race to the final, helped by the exits of world number one Ashleigh Barty and defending champion Sofia Kenin on her side of the draw.
Not having lost a set before surviving a three-set thriller to Karolina Muchova in the semifinals, Brady knows she’s ready to fight a player she long believed destined for stardom.
“We grew up playing local junior tournaments in Florida,” she said.
“I remember playing it, I was like, ‘Wow, she’s hitting the huge ball. It’s going to be good. She’s got something special.’
Brady, who “didn’t really like” tennis when she was young but rekindled her love for the sport in college, has reveled in her self-confidence since her breakthrough in New York City, but admitted that the cauldron of a Slam finale would be a new experience.
“I don’t know how I’m going to feel on Saturday,” she said.
“There are going to be times, games, points that I’m going to think about … ‘Wow, that could be my first Grand Slam title.’
Osaka is more experienced on the highest stage despite being two years younger and has changed its attitude towards big games.
“I used to weigh my whole existence if I won or lost a tennis match,” she said. “It’s not what I feel anymore.”
Osaka, who has never lost a Slam match after moving past the fourth round, aims to become the first female player since Monica Seles won her first four Grand Slam finals.
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