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History on the line for Osaka in Australian Open final

Hannah Wilks in WTA Tour 25 Jan 2019
  • Naomi Osaka and Petra Kvitova face off in the final of the 2019 Australian Open
  • The winner will become world no. 1
  • Osaka could make personal, national and Asian history with a victory on Saturday
Naomi Osaka could make history at the Australian Open on Saturday (DAVID GRAY/AFP/Getty Images)

History is on the line for Naomi Osaka and Petra Kvitova in the Australian Open final.

Every Grand Slam final sees someone deepening their impact on the history of a sport ever-more defined by those four major tournaments. But even in this era of record-breakers, there’s a huge amount on the line in the 2019 Australian Open final which will see US Open champion Naomi Osaka taking on two-time Wimbledon winner Petra Kvitova.

Whichever player ends up lifting the Daphne Akhurst Memorial Cup on Saturday will be ranked world no. 1 – a first for either woman. It’s the first time that the no. 1 ranking has been on the line in a final between two players who have never held the top spot before. The runner-up will be ranked world no. 2, which would still be a career-high ranking for Osaka, while Kvitova hasn’t been that highly ranked since 2015.

Should she win Saturday’s final – the first meeting between either player – 28-year-old Kvitova would become the oldest woman to become world no. 1 for the first time since the WTA computer rankings began in 1975.

Two-time Wimbledon champion Petra Kvitova faces Osaka in Saturday's Australian Open final (GREG WOOD/AFP/Getty Images)
Osaka, seven years younger than Kvitova at 21, would be the youngest woman to reach world no. 1 since Caroline Wozniacki did so in 

Becoming world no. 1 would be a huge thing for either player, of course, but for Osaka – seven years younger than Kvitova at 21 – it would represent the zenith of a meteoric ascension through the ranks. Just 12 months ago, Osaka had never won a WTA Tour title or made the quarterfinals of a Grand Slam, and she was ranked world no. 72 – although her run to the fourth round in Melbourne would lift her to just outside the top 50. 

Osaka would also be the first Asian player, male or female, to be ranked world no. 1, having already become the first Japanese player to win a Grand Slam and tied the career-high ranking previously obtained by compatriots Kei Nishikori and Kimiko Date-Krumm.

It would be especially resonant if Osaka should achieve this at the Australian Open, which has for some time billed itself as the Grand Slam of Asia-Pacific.

It’s incredibly heady stuff for Osaka. But throughout the tournament so far, her focus on simply battling for every point has served her well in three-set wins over Su-Wei Hsieh, Anastasija Sevastova and Karolina Pliskova.

‘[I]t's a little bit unreal. At the same time I realize the work that I put in during the off-season. Every match that I played, I tried my best. It just felt like it was a continuous effort,’ Osaka said.

‘Yeah, I mean, I can't believe about the same time it's sort of the reality I am in right now, so I can only keep going forward from here.’

These aren’t the only records the Japanese-American woman could break. 

After Osaka’s US Open triumph, having reached the final of the next Grand Slam means she could join Venus and Serena Williams as the third active female player to have won back-to-back Grand Slam titles, with Serena last doing so in 2014-15 when she won the US Open, Australian Open, French Open and Wimbledon in a row to complete her second ‘Serena Slam’. 
Williams in 2014-15 is the last woman to have won the US Open and the Australian Open back-to-back. Osaka’s current 13-match winning streak at Grand Slams is the longest since Williams won 33 straight Grand Slam matches between the 2014 and 2015 US Opens.

It has been almost unprecedented in recent years for a first-time Grand Slam winner to have a deep run at her next major event. Just take a look at this table, which looks back at players who became first-time major winners over the past 20 years:

WTA first-time Slam champions

PlayerFirst Grand Slam titleResult at next majorTotal Grand Slams
Serena WilliamsUS Open, 1999R16 23
Venus WilliamsWimbledon, 2000Champion 7
Jennifer CapriatiAustralian Open, 2001Champion 3
Justine HeninFrench Open, 2003SF 7
Anastasia MyskinaFrench Open, 2004R3 1
Maria SharapovaWimbledon, 2004R35
Svetlana KuznetsovaUS Open, 2004QF2
Kim ClijstersUS Open, 2005SF4
Amelie MauresmoAustralian Open, 2006R162
Ana IvanovicFrench Open, 2008R31
Francesca SchiavoneFrench Open, 2010R11
Li NaFrench Open, 2011R22
Petra KvitovaWimbledon, 2011R12
Samantha StosurUS Open, 2011R11
Victoria AzarenkaAustralian Open, 2012R162
Marion BartoliWimbledon, 2013Did not play another1
Angelique KerberAustralian Open, 2016R13
Flavia PennettaUS Open, 2015Did not play another1
Garbine MuguruzaFrench Open, 2016R22
Jelena OstapenkoFrench Open, 2017QF1
Sloane StephensUS Open, 2017R11
Caroline WozniackiAustralian Open, 2018R161
Simona HalepFrench Open, 2018R31

Not since Jennifer Capriati in 2001 has a player won her maiden major and gone on to win the next Grand Slam too. The American did so at the 2001 Australian Open and French Open (and Venus Williams had done it the year before at Wimbledon and the US Open). 

In the Open Era, Evonne Goolagong Cawley at the 1971 French Open and Wimbledon and Chris Evert at the same tournaments in 1974 are the only others to accomplish the feat.
Osaka attributed her success in backing up her breakthrough Slam win to loving the rarefied level of Grand Slam tennis:

‘[Y]ou guys know that I love Grand Slams. This is, like, a place where I think is worth all the training,’ she said. 

‘When you're little, you watch the Grand Slams, you watch all the players play, like, the legendary matches here. For me, this is the most important tournament. There's only four of them a year, so of course I want to do the best that I can here.’

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History on the line for Osaka in Australian Open final

Naomi Osaka could become the first Asian world no. 1 and the first woman in almost 20 years to follow her maiden major title by winning the next Grand Slam if she defeats Petra Kvitova in the Australian Open final

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