MELBOURNE, Australia (AP) — As Naomi Osaka strode through the Champion’s Walk leading to the court for the Australian Open final — headphones on her ears, racket bag strapped to her back — she reached out her left hand to tap a panel marked with her name and the year of her previous title there.
Not a big deal, she explained. Just a bit of superstition. Less than 10 minutes later, she began the match against Jennifer Brady. And less than 1 1/2 hours later, Osaka won the last point, because that’s what she does when the stakes are the greatest on her sport’s biggest stages.
Osaka improved to 4-0 in Grand Slam finals by grabbing six consecutive games to pull away in what initially was a tight contest, beating Brady 6-4, 6-3 at Melbourne Park on Saturday.
“You don’t go into a final wanting to be the runner-up. For me, I feel like every opportunity that I play a Slam is an opportunity to win a Slam,” said the 23-year-old Osaka, who will move up to No. 2 in the WTA rankings. “So I think maybe I put that pressure on myself too much, but honestly, it’s working out in my favor right now.”