Osaka edges Kvitova for Australian Open title, No. 1 ranking

MELBOURNE, Australia (AP) — So close to victory, Naomi Osaka suddenly was letting the Australian Open final slip away. Three championship points? Gone. A sizable lead? Soon all gone, too.

She was playing poorly. She yelled at herself. Slammed a ball. Tugged at her visor's pink brim. Trudged to the locker room between sets with a towel draped over her head.

And then, after returning to the court, Osaka turned it all around just as quickly as she had dropped 23 of 27 points. Regrouping and reasserting herself, Osaka edged Petra Kvitova 7-6 (2), 5-7, 6-4 on Saturday night to win the Australian Open for a second consecutive Grand Slam title.

On top of that, Osaka will rise to No. 1 in the rankings.

Almost didn't happen, though, against two-time Wimbledon champion Kvitova.

Osaka held three match points in the second set at 5-3, love-40 as Kvitova served. But Osaka couldn't close it out. Instead, she completely lost her way.

That allowed Kvitova to come back and make a match of it, reeling off five games in a row to take the second set and go up 1-0 in the third.

Hard as it must have been, Osaka recovered. She also got her powerful shots going again. After Kvitova double-faulted to offer up a break point at 1-all, Osaka converted it with a cross-court backhand winner. There was still more work to be done, of course, and some additional drama when it began raining at the changeover right before Osaka tried to serve for the match at 5-4 in the third set.

This time, Osaka would not falter. She would not let this lead disappear.

Osaka added the Australian Open trophy to the one she collected in a U.S. Open final last September that forever will be remembered for the way runner-up Serena Williams was docked a game after arguing with the chair umpire.

Unlike that day, there was no jeering from the confused crowd. No controversy. No chaos. No sharing the spotlight.

Clearly marking herself as tennis' bright new star, Osaka is the first woman to win two major championships in a row since Williams picked up four straight in 2014-15.

Related: Scenes from the 2019 Australian Open:

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Scenes from the 2019 Australian Open
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Scenes from the 2019 Australian Open
Barbora Strycova of the Czech Republic bites the net in frustration during her first round match against KazakhstanÅfs Yulia Putintseva at the Australian Open tennis championships in Melbourne, Australia, Monday, Jan. 14, 2019. (AP Photo/Mark Schiefelbein)
Britain's Kyle Edmund serves to Tomas Berdych of the Czech Republic during their first round match at the Australian Open tennis championships in Melbourne, Australia, Monday, Jan. 14, 2019. (AP Photo/Andy Brownbill)
Spain's Rafael Nadal serves to Australia's James Duckworth in their first round match at the Australian Open tennis championships in Melbourne, Australia, Monday, Jan. 14, 2019. (AP Photo/Aaron Favila)
Petra Kvitova of the Czech Republic makes a backhand return to Slovakia's Magdalena Rybarikova during their first round match at the Australian Open tennis championships in Melbourne, Australia, Monday, Jan. 14, 2019.(AP Photo/Kin Cheung)
Britain's Andy Murray reacts during his first round match against Spain's Roberto Bautista Agut at the Australian Open tennis championships in Melbourne, Australia, Monday, Jan. 14, 2019. (AP Photo/Andy Brownbill)
Britain's Andy Murray reacts during a press conference following his first round loss to Spain's Roberto Bautista Agut at the Australian Open tennis championships in Melbourne, Australia, Tuesday, Jan. 15, 2019. (AP Photo/Kin Cheung)
Tennis - Australian Open - Melbourne Park, Melbourne, Australia - January 10, 2019 - Japan's Naomi Osaka trains. REUTERS/Edgar Su TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
MELBOURNE, AUSTRALIA - JANUARY 24: A detail as sweat drips from the brow of Rafael Nadal of Spain in his Men's Singles Semi Final match against Stefanos Tsitsipas of Greece during day 11 of the 2019 Australian Open at Melbourne Park on January 24, 2019 in Melbourne, Australia. (Photo by Scott Barbour/Getty Images)
MELBOURNE, AUSTRALIA - JANUARY 26: Naomi Osaka of Japan celebrates after winning championship point in her Women's Singles Final match against Petra Kvitova of Czech Republic during day 13 of the 2019 Australian Open at Melbourne Park on January 26, 2019 in Melbourne, Australia. (Photo by Julian Finney/Getty Images)
MELBOURNE, AUSTRALIA - JANUARY 25: Samantha Stosur of Australia plays a forehand in her Women's Doubles Final match with Shuai Zhang of China against Timea Babos of Hungary and Kristina Mladenovic of France during day 12 of the 2019 Australian Open at Melbourne Park on January 25, 2019 in Melbourne, Australia. (Photo by Mark Kolbe/Getty Images)
MELBOURNE, AUSTRALIA - JANUARY 26: Petra Kvitova of the Czech Republic plays a backhand in her Women's Singles Final match against Naomi Osaka of Japan during day 13 of the 2019 Australian Open at Melbourne Park on January 26, 2019 in Melbourne, Australia. (Photo by Mark Kolbe/Getty Images)
MELBOURNE, AUSTRALIA - JANUARY 23: Milos Raonic of Canada serves in his quarter final match against Lucas Pouille of France during day 10 of the 2019 Australian Open at Melbourne Park on January 23, 2019 in Melbourne, Australia. (Photo by Scott Barbour/Getty Images)
MELBOURNE, AUSTRALIA - JANUARY 23: Serena Williams of the United States looks on in her quarter final match against Karolina Pliskova of Czech Republic during day 10 of the 2019 Australian Open at Melbourne Park on January 23, 2019 in Melbourne, Australia. (Photo by Cameron Spencer/Getty Images)
MELBOURNE, AUSTRALIA - JANUARY 27: Novak Djokovic of Serbia celebrates after winning championship point in his Men's Singles Final match against Rafael Nadal of Spain during day 14 of the 2019 Australian Open at Melbourne Park on January 27, 2019 in Melbourne, Australia. (Photo by Quinn Rooney/Getty Images)
Japan's Naomi Osaka holds her trophy after defeating Petra Kvitova of the Czech Republic during the women's singles final at the Australian Open tennis championships in Melbourne, Australia, Saturday, Jan. 26, 2019. (AP Photo/Kin Cheung)
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Osaka was born in Japan — her mother is Japanese, her father is Haitian — and she moved to New York at age 3. Now she's based in Florida and has dual citizenship. Osaka already was the first player representing Japan — female or male — to win a Grand Slam singles title. Now she also is the first to top the WTA or ATP rankings.

At 21, Osaka is the youngest No. 1 in nearly a decade; Caroline Wozniacki was 20 when she first ascended to that spot in 2010.

And to think, a year ago, Osaka was ranked 72nd.

What a climb. What a quick climb.

Kvitova was playing in her first Grand Slam final since winning Wimbledon five years ago — and the first since she was stabbed in the hand by an intruder at her home in the Czech Republic a little more than two years ago.

"You've been through so much," Osaka told Kvitova during the trophy ceremony. "I'm really honored to have played you in the final of a Grand Slam."

On a somewhat cloudy, rather comfortable evening, with only a slight breeze and the temperature around 75 degrees (25 Celsius), both women hit the ball as hard as can be. Exchanges were mostly at the baseline and filled with flat, powerful groundstrokes that barely cleared the net and made retrieving and replying as much about reflexes as anything.

Here's one measure of how even it was: Each finished with 33 winners.

Points were swift and blunt; of 86 in the first set, only four lasted nine strokes or more. There was plenty of strong serving, clean hitting and good movement.

It was Osaka who was the first to get ahead, tearing through the tiebreaker by grabbing five points in a row — four via winners — to go up 5-1. When Kvitova sailed a backhand wide moments later, ceding a set for the first time all tournament, Osaka pumped her fist and screamed, "Come on!"

How pivotal was that moment? Kvitova had won her last 22 Grand Slam matches after winning the first set. Osaka, meanwhile, entered the day having won 59 matches anywhere after going up by a set.

When Osaka broke to lead 3-2 in the second set, and then got to 5-3, the outcome seemed to be a foregone conclusion. Turned out, that wasn't the case. Not at all.

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