Women's final preview: Naomi Osaka v Jennifer Brady

  • Matt Trollope

It’s the final tennis geeks around the world are eagerly awaiting.

And it could be the final that casual fans did not realise they wanted until they watch it.

MORE: Full schedule for Day 13

Naomi Osaka will clash with Jennifer Brady in the women’s singles final on Saturday night, a fitting conclusion to an event bringing together the two players demonstrating the highest level of tennis and mental toughness.

Osaka was forced to save two match points in the fourth round against Garbine Muguruza. Brady was forced to complete two weeks of hard hotel quarantine before commencing her Australian summer campaign.

Yet here they are, having dropped just three sets between them all fortnight.

Clash of the titans

While Osaka, a three-time major champion and superstar of the sport, faces a Grand Slam final debutant, this is hardly a one-sided match-up.

It follows their glorious US Open semifinal from 2020, a match widely acclaimed as the best women’s contest of the year and one which Osaka’s declared as “probably in the top two matches I've played in my life”.

An occasion full of huge serving, power-hitting and a steady stream of winners, Osaka needed three sets to subdue the threat of the then-untested American.

After defeating Serena Williams in a masterful semifinal performance, Osaka was forced to preview a final without knowing her opponent. But she knew Brady, who at the time was leading her semifinal against Karolina Muchova, posed a formidable threat.

“It's easily one of my most memorable matches. I think it was just super high quality throughout,” the world No.3 said of that US Open bout.

“For me, it's not really surprising at all to see her in another semi or another final.

“It's definitely going to be really tough if I do play her.”

Brady joins the elite

While it is not unusual to see Osaka in another major final, this is unfamiliar territory for the 24th-ranked Brady, who has won nine of her past 10 matches.

Those with a passing interest in tennis may never have heard of the 25-year-old prior to AO2021.The American has never been ranked inside the top 20, and until her US Open semifinal last year had never been beyond the fourth round at a Slam.

But after changing up her team and training base – she works with coach Michael Geserer in Germany – Brady enjoyed an incredible upward swing in 2020.

She beat Maria Sharapova and top-ranked Ash Barty at the Brisbane International to start the year, won 12 of her first 17 matches before COVID-19 suspended the sport, then claimed her first WTA title in Lexington when tennis resumed in August.

“Throughout my junior career, all the coaches that I had … were always telling me I had potential to be a great tennis player,” Brady said.

"People don't remember the runner-up. You might, but the winner's name is the one that's engraved."
Naomi Osaka

“But … I had a bit of a temper as a kid. Wasn't really mentally the toughest. So I think that has kind of just shifted my whole career, just being able to stay in tough moments, close out tough matches, just fight my way back regardless of the score.

“I just needed to put the two things together and now I have.”

Then came her semifinal run in New York. Unlike in Melbourne, that Grand Slam run came without fans.

That different dynamic was something she noticed when trying to close out Karolina Muchova in what turned out to be a thrilling final set of their semifinal. 

“I think it added a little bit of extra nerves, a little bit of extra pressure, just wanting to perform well in front of people,” admitted Brady, who is yet to face a top-25 player at AO2021.

“Also I was thinking a little bit about the celebration and hearing everyone applauding. I think maybe I lost a little bit of the focus that I had before maybe with no fans.”

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Jennifer Brady has proven she belongs amongst the women's elite

The biggest test in tennis

Osaka is unlikely to have any such problems with focus or adjusting to crowds.

The 23-year-old instead relishes the Grand Slam stage – history shows that if she gets beyond the fourth round of a major tournament, she wins the trophy.

A champion at Melbourne Park in 2019, Osaka has been in devastating form two years on, swatting aside impressive challengers Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova, Caroline Garcia and Ons Jabeur in her first three matches, outslugging Muguruza in that last-16 classic, and dissecting Su-Wei Hsieh and Williams in her two most recent outings.

She has again arrived at the point of the tournament where she elevates her game.

“I have this mentality that people don't remember the runner-up. You might, but the winner's name is the one that's engraved,” Osaka said.

“I think I fight the hardest in the finals. I think that's where you set yourself apart.”

We will see on Saturday night indeed which player does set themselves apart from the other.

But if it is hard to separate them, as it was in their US Open clash, then casual fans will join the tennis geeks in drinking in what promises to be a spectacular clash on one of the grandest stages in the sport.