• KYODO, AFP-JIJI

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World No. 3 Naomi Osaka needed just two sets to defeat American Jennifer Brady in the Australian Open women’s singles final on Saturday at Rod Laver Arena in Melbourne Park to capture her fourth Grand Slam title.

Osaka, who beat seven-time champion Serena Williams to reach the final, came through 6-4, 6-3 against world No. 24 Brady, who was making her first appearance in a Grand Slam final.

“We played in the semis of the U.S. Open a couple of months ago and I told everyone that you’re going to be a problem,” Osaka told Brady during the trophy presentation. “And I was right. It’s really incredible to me to see your growth over the past few months, it’s really cool for me to see.”

Osaka, who will rise to No. 2 in the world rankings, joined Monica Seles and Roger Federer as the only players to win their first four major finals.

Having raced through the opening game, Osaka piled pressure on Brady’s serve, winning three straight points before the American eventually held for 1-1.

A clear crowd favorite, the Japanese No. 3 seed secured the break at 3-1 with a love game after Brady committed her second double fault of the match.

But the underdog broke back right away, winning three straight points from 40-30 down and clinching the game after Osaka failed to find the target with her backhand.

Osaka stared down a break point at 4-4, hitting a powerful forehand winner after Brady lobbed over her head to win an entertaining rally and go up 40-30.

She clinched the set on her second break point as Brady ended the game with two forehand unforced errors, first hitting long and then into the net.

Osaka surged to a 3-0 lead in the second set with her fifth ace, then won her second straight break point against Brady to seemingly put the match in a stranglehold at 4-0.

The American kept up the fight and broke back at 4-1, but could only prolong the inevitable before Osaka closed out the match with a love game, earning an ovation from the partisan Melbourne Park crowd.

Brady was one of 72 players placed under strict hotel lockdown in Melbourne last month after arriving in Australia on a flight with a passenger who later tested positive for COVID-19.

Despite the defeat, Brady will rise to a career-high 13th in the WTA rankings.

Osaka and Williams, who arrived on virus-free flights, were able to train for up to five hours a day as they were among a group of players quarantining in Adelaide instead of Melbourne.

On Thursday, Osaka knocked Williams out, ending her latest bid for a record-tying 24th Grand Slam title.

Following a strict five-day virus lockdown in Melbourne, fans were welcomed back into the stands on Thursday and allowed to attend the last four days of the tournament.

Osaka beat Williams in the 2018 U.S. Open final for her breakthrough Grand Slam title. The 23-year-old also won the U.S. Open in 2020 after beating Brady in the semifinals, and the Australian Open in 2019.

Having grown up watching the Australian Open at “crazy hours” in the United States, Osaka said it felt “surreal” to triumph for the second time at Melbourne Park.

“I’m really just living my dreams,” she said.

“I’m always shaking a little bit (at the end). Thank God I had three match points.”

Reinforcing her reputation as tennis’ premier player, having won four of the last eight Grand Slams she’s played, Osaka warned she was not satisfied.

“I take every tournament seriously,” she said.

“I just want to be consistent and that is my main goal this year.”

Amid an uncertain upcoming schedule, Osaka said she hoped to compete at the Tokyo Olympics.

“Everyone knows I wanted to play in the Olympics since I was a kid and hopefully it goes through,” she said.

After this triumph, Osaka planned a low-key celebration.

“I’m probably going to watch some anime… maybe (eat) pizza… and go to sleep,” she said.

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