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Sunday December 5th, 2021 1:01AM

Osaka claims 4th Slam trophy by beating Brady in Australia

By The Associated Press
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MELBOURNE, Australia (AP) — The trouble for Naomi Osaka at Grand Slam tournaments comes in Week 1. Get beyond that stage at the hard-court majors, though, and start preparing to etch her name on the trophy.

Osaka won her fourth title in her past eight appearances at a Slam, emerging from what initially was a tight Australian Open final and pulling away by grabbing six consecutive games to beat Jennifer Brady 6-4, 6-3 on Saturday.

With strong serving that produced six aces, Osaka improved to 4-0 in major finals, the first woman to start her career that way since Monica Seles did it 30 years ago. For Osaka, that is part of a 12-0 record so far in the quarterfinals, semifinals and finals at the majors.

“She played really well when she had to,” Brady said. “She hit good shots when she needed them.”

Osaka, t he 2020 AP Female Athlete of the Year, is also on a 21-match winning streak that dates to last season. That includes a championship at last year’s U.S. Open. She also won the U.S. Open in 2018, and the Australian Open in 2019.

“Tonight it wasn’t meant to be,” Brady said after participating in her first Grand Slam final at age 25. “Hopefully there’s many more.”

The 23-year-old Osaka was born in Japan to a Japanese mother and Haitian father, and moved to the United States with her family when she was 3.

She was seeded No. 3 at Melbourne Park and is now assured of moving up to No. 2.

Only two active women own more Slam titles than Osaka: Serena Williams, with 23, and her sister, Venus, with seven.

Next task for Osaka is improving on clay and grass: She’s never been past the third round at the French Open or Wimbledon.

“She’s such an inspiration to us all, and what she’s doing for the game is amazing in getting the sport out there,” said Brady, an American who was seeded 22nd. “I hope young girls at home are watching and inspired by what she’s doing.”

Brady had to go through a hard quarantine for 15 days when she arrived in Australia in January because someone on her flight tested positive for COVID-19 when they arrived.

This was a big step up in competition during this tournament for Brady, who had not faced anyone ranked in the Top 25 nor anyone who previously appeared in so much as one Grand Slam semifinal.

Brady's only previous final four appearance at a major came at the U.S. Open in September, when she lost to Osaka in three sets.

She wasn't able to push the champ as much this time.

“I told everyone that would listen that you’re going to be a problem — and I was right,” Osaka told Brady with a chuckle, after asking her whether she prefers to be called Jenny or Jennifer. “To see your growth over the past few months is really cool for me to see.”

During the pre-match coin toss, the silver women’s trophy stood on a clear, plastic pedestal not far from Osaka on her side of the net. After beating Serena Williams in the semifinals, Osaka had made her intentions clear: “I have this mentality that people don’t remember the runners-up. You might, but the winner’s name is the one that’s engraved.”

And she keeps making sure that name is hers.

It was cooler than it’s been in Melbourne recently, with the temperature down below 70 degrees Fahrenheit (20 degrees Celsius) and a breeze that made serve tosses difficult for both players, who would catch the ball instead of hit it and say, “Sorry!”

The stadium was allowed to be at half capacity — about 7,500 people — after spectators were barred entirely earlier in the tournament for five days during a COVID-19 lockdown.

“Thank you for coming and watching. It feels really incredible for me,” said Osaka, whose 2020 U.S. Open title came in empty stadiums. “I didn’t play my last Grand Slam with fans, so just to have this energy, it really means a lot.”

In the men’s final Sunday (7:30 p.m. local time, 3:30 a.m. EST), No. 1 Novak Djokovic will be seeking his ninth Australian Open championship and 18th Grand Slam trophy overall. He faces No. 4 Daniil Medvedev, who carries a 20-match winning streak into his second major final.

On Saturday, the women's match was locked at 4-all, when Brady used an on-the-run lob winner that she punctuated by waving her arms to request more noise from the crowd. That earned a break point — convert that, and she would serve for the opening set.

But Osaka erased the chance with a cross-court forehand winner, and two errors by Brady made it 5-4.

Osaka then broke to grab the set, helped by Brady’s double-fault and a netted forehand on a short ball to end it.

“Happens maybe one in 10 times,” Brady said of that mistake, “or hopefully less.”

That was part of the six-game run that put Osaka ahead 4-0 in the second and she was on her way.

“She plays so aggressive that she puts so much pressure on you to perform well,” Brady said, “and that’s something that not every tennis player has that ability to do.”

___

More AP tennis: https://apnews.com/hub/tennis and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports

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