Sport Naomi Osaka faces a talented Jennifer Brady in an Australian Open final which shapes to be a potential classic
Osaka cruises into Open third round
Naomi Osaka has made short work of French player Caroline Garcia, winning their second round Australian Open clash 6-2 6-3.Osaka, who took the title at Melbourne Park in 2019, was in full control of her 6-2 6-3 win over France's Caroline Garcia.
The 2021 Australian Open has seemingly been a giant exercise in contrast.
Cool nights giving into scorching days.
Raucous crowds turning into lockdown-induced silent stands. Favourites making expected runs, and rising stars making their name.
On the women's side of the 2021 tournament, two athletes remain — three-time grand slam champion Naomi Osaka and rising American star Jennifer Brady.
Both have played exceptional tennis to get this far and navigated through a minefield of talent on both sides of the draw.
Naomi Osaka is perhaps the most singular talent in women's tennis right now.
Her ability to overpower opponents is core to her game, winning cheap points along the way.
Australian Open to go ahead without crowds despite strict lockdown
Leading players say they are grateful just to be able to continue the Australian Open after crowds were shut out.'We're guests here, so whatever works for the safety of everyone,' said world No.3 Naomi Osaka, the 2019 champion, after easing into the fourth round on Friday.
Since the restart of professional tennis in August 2020, Osaka hasn't lost a match on court.
In one of the most remarkable runs in recent memory, Osaka has won 40 sets and lost just eight.
In a world where professional sport is increasingly homogeneous, she plays with a free hand, unafraid to represent her own personality and values.
Osaka's organisation of a cessation of play last year during the Western & Southern Open in protest of the police shooting of Jacob Blake was perhaps the most significant social action in a generation in professional tennis.
Late last year, Osaka told fashion/lifestyle outlet TheThirty the reason she spoke out was clear.
"I was tired of seeing acts of injustice committed against people of colour with little done in response, so I decided that I was going to use my platform to raise awareness and stand up for what I believe in," she said.
Naomi Osaka survives scare from Garbiñe Muguruza, progresses to Australian Open quarter finals
Naomi Osaka comes from a set down and saves two match points to beat Garbiñe Muguruza in a three-set tussle to progress to the quarter finals of the Australian Open.The three-time grand slam winner survived two match points on her own serve in the third set, before breaking back as Muguruza served for the match.
At the same time, she is willing to expose parts of her personality that other players often hold back.
At just 23 years old, Osaka is on the cusp of winning her fourth grand slam title.
She would be the youngest to do so since Justine Henin over 15 years ago.
Standing in her way is Jennifer Brady, one of an increasingly deep pool of US players.
Brady is seeking to become the 13th different winner of a grand slam title since 2017 — something that underscores the depth in the women's field.
At the same time, the men's side has seen just four grand slam champions.
The depth of the WTA has meant that it is hard for players to stay at the top for a long time, with a deep top tier.
While unknown to some casual observers, the growth in Brady's game over the past two years has been remarkable.
Since the start of the 2019 season, Brady's ranking has risen from 119th to 24th, and she has claimed wins over Ash Barty, Garbiñe Muguruza and Elina Svitolina since the start of the 2020 season.
Osaka powers past veteran Hsieh into Australian Open semis
World number three Naomi Osaka stormed past Hsieh Su-wei in straight sets Tuesday to book an Australian Open semi-final against either Serena Williams or Simona Halep. Osaka, 23, will play either 23-time Grand Slam winner Williams or world number two Halep for a place in Saturday's final.The Japanese three-time Grand Slam champion overcame the Taiwanese world number 71's unorthodox style 6-2, 6-2 in an all-Asian quarter-final at a crowd-less Rod Laver Arena.
According to Tennis Abstract's Elo player ratings, Brady is currently the 14th-best player in the world, showing the strong vein of form she has displayed in the last 12 months.
Brady has arguably been hurt more than any other player with the changes to the rankings and lack of tennis last year.
Brady's improvement has largely come from her service game, being adept at holding serve and saving break points.
The path to this year's final
Both Brady and Osaka faced a couple of nervy moments on their way to the big stage.
Brady just held on in her semi against Karolína Muchová, winning fewer points than her opponent but winning the match.
For a few minutes, it looked like Osaka would be making an early exit at the hands of Garbiñe Muguruza.
Muguruza seemingly had the momentum, and the match in her grasp.
Overall, Osaka has faced an arduous path to the final, facing multiple potential hurdles in Williams, Su Wei, Jabeur and Muguruza.
Osaka has beaten five players currently in the top-45, and one more, Su Wei, formerly in the top-25.
By contrast, Brady has had a much softer draw, benefiting from a host of acclaimed names falling by the wayside as the tournament progressed.
Jennifer Brady surprised to reach Australian Open final after going through hard coronavirus quarantine
The laidback American did not expect to still be playing at the business end of the season-opening major after being confined to her hotel room for 14 days in the build-up to the tournament.The 22nd-seeded Brady will meet Naomi Osaka in Saturday night's final after beating Karolína Muchová 6-4, 3-6, 6-4 in the last four.
Brady has faced just two players ranked inside the top-50, and as many ranked outside the top-100.
But you can only beat who is in front of you, and Brady has taken care of business throughout.
Brady has dropped just two sets, rarely being pushed throughout.
Osaka has been even more impressive in her run, dropping only one set so far.
Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova in the first round has been the only player so far to remotely curb Osaka's ability to drill aces, and she was only able to win three games across the match.
How the opponents match up
While the women's side of tennis is extremely diverse in terms of game style, the two Australian Open finalists play a relatively similar game.
For all the differences in profile, the playing styles of both players are remarkable similar.
Osaka is a 180cm-tall right-hander with a two-handed backhand, while Brady is a right-hander who stands at 178cm — with a two-handed backhanded stroke.
Both Osaka and Brady dominate on serve, constantly holding games and getting out of jams to put pressure on their opponents.
In this year's Australian Open, both Osaka and Brady sit inside the top five for first serve win percentage, and the top-11 for fastest serve speed.
Power is the strength of both of their games, with short points and comprehensive winners the order of the day.
Australian Open 2021: Naomi Osaka v Jennifer Brady - how to watch, when is it, form and live blog
US Open champion Naomi Osaka will take on 22 seed Jennifer Brady in Australian Open's women's final on Saturday night (AEDT).Osaka will be looking for her fourth grand slam title, hoping to build off her success at the 2020 US Open.
Both rarely play drop shots, and don't generally come to the net.
The last time these two met was in a US Open semi-final last year.
If it wasn't an instant classic, it was a very good match nonetheless.
The win over Brady is perhaps Osaka's closest match in the last 12 months, with the American taking a set off the young star and pushing another set to a tiebreak.
The match was largely played on serve, with only six break point opportunities across the whole match.
Overall, Osaka has won two of the three encounters between the two, with Brady's sole win coming six years ago in a lower-level ITF matchup when both were ranked well outside the top-200.
Despite Osaka's winning streak, there are some signs that Brady may be able to take the fight up to Naomi.
Most critically, Brady's ability to hold serve and capitalise on short points can create pressure on any opponent, especially when she can land her first serve.
That's perhaps the critical part of her path to victory — Brady's first serve percentage.
When Brady is able to get her first serve in, and pick up aces on her first serve, she has been very hard to beat in the last 12 months.
Brady's only loss when she has had an ace rate of more than 5 per cent in the last 12 months was to Osaka at the US Open.
Osaka's paths to victory are similar, but with a bit more room for error.
While she occasionally struggles to earn break points, she converts them at a better rate than Brady.
Osaka also rarely gives up break point opportunities, but there are times where her first serve percentage dips.
Like Brady, when Osaka keeps her serve percentage up, she is very hard to beat.
Last year, she gave up only two break point opportunities to Brady, who was able to convert one.
If Osaka can stay away from break points, she will be very hard to beat.
Players with raw power, but real style
Despite the raw power that both players deploy, there's a real art to the way they play.
Both are adept at exploiting angles and to working out when to send those powerful strokes to the other side.
Both players have enviable highlight reels.
If both players bring their best game, it could be not only a tight match but also an action-packed one.
Brady is one of the few players that can match Osaka's style of play and do it almost as well as her.
On the other hand, no player has beaten Osaka since February 2020 and she's keen to keep it that way.
If she does, Osaka will stake her claim as the best player currently on the women's tour, and a future great of the game.
Video: Osaka lets Serena back into it (Wide World of Sports)
Australian Open champion Naomi Osaka wants to inspire the next generation of female tennis stars .
Fresh from claiming her second title at Melbourne Park with a straight-sets wins over Jennifer Brady, the four-time major winner says she hopes to continue her career long enough to play an opponent who looked up to her when they were young.At 23, she now has four in her keeping following her victory in Saturday night's Australian Open final, and there is almost no doubt that there will be several more to come.