OPINION

Why Naomi Osaka's on top of the tennis world

She's currently ranked second, but Naomi Osaka is the best women's player in the world right now. Photo: TPN/Getty Images
She's currently ranked second, but Naomi Osaka is the best women's player in the world right now. Photo: TPN/Getty Images

Naomi Osaka is ranked No.2 behind Australian Ash Barty, but the Japanese ace is without doubt the world's best female tennis player.

At 23, the 180cm Osaka is a powerhouse as she showed during the Australian Open.

Osaka dropped only one set - to dual Grand Slam titleholder Garbine Muguruza in a fourth-round victory in which she saved two match points - on her way to her second title win at Melbourne Park.

One can only imagine what was going through Serena Williams' mind as the athletic Osaka forced the veteran American wide and passed her with powerful groundstrokes in their semi-final.

To keen observers, Osaka is a younger, stronger version of the 23-time Grand Slam champion Williams - who the Japanese player idolised as she was growing up in the US, with her mighty serve and ability to return.

Saturday night's victory elevated Osaka to elite company. She became only the third player in the Open era (since 1968) to win in their first four Grand Slam final appearances. Roger Federer won his first seven major finals and Monica Seles, her first six.

Osaka will have her eyes firmly on the two championships she is yet to win - the French Open and Wimbledon.

Despite losing the final in straight sets, Jennifer Brady deserves enormous credit for her performances during the tournament.

The American endured a tough lead-up, as did 71 others during a 14-day lockdown period in Melbourne, and produced some scintillating tennis before coming up short in her first Grand Slam final.

Daniil Medvedev is a young star on the rise. Photo: Daniel Pockett/Getty Images

Daniil Medvedev is a young star on the rise. Photo: Daniel Pockett/Getty Images

MEDVEDEV, TSITSIPAS HEADED FOR GLORY

Daniil Medvedev and Stephanos Tsitsipas did not win the Australian Open title, but their semi-final provided a window into the future of professional men's tennis.

While Tsitsipas lost in straight sets to Medvedev, the popular young Greek has the weapons to be a future Grand Slam winner.

His proficiency at the net makes him ideally suited to the grass courts of Wimbledon.

But the pair have a way to go before they catch up to the big three - Federer, Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic - who move to another level during the Grand Slam tournaments. Medvedevhad won three of his past four matches against Djokovic before his mental disintegration in Sunday's final, which broke a 20-match winning streak.

Since last October, the Russian had notched wins over the world's top three players Djokovic, Nadal and Dominic Thiem in the ATP World Tour Finals in London and taken numerous other top-10 scalps.

But Djokovic broke Medvedev's spirit with a comprehensive display of power hitting.

Medvedev has a solid baseline game: imposing serve, stunning array of groundstrokes and excellent court coverage.

But his major weakness with the volley at the net makes him vulnerable against top opposition as they seek to force him forward.

After losing the first two sets, Medvedev failed to show the composure necessary in the decisive third set as he attempted to rush his points and this played into the hands of the determined Serbian.

Djokovic is the undisputed king of Melbourne Park after winning his ninth Australian Open title. His 18th Grand Slam victory leaves him two behind fierce rivals Federer and Nadal.

Federer is on the comeback trail after more than a year on the sidelines recovering from two knee operations. Nadal will set himself for a 14th French Open title after losing to Tsitsipas in a gruelling quarter-final.

There were times during this tournament when another Grand Slam title appeared beyond Djokovic as he battled a nagging abdominal injury sustainedin a third round win against Taylor Fritz.

But as all champions do, the Serbian found a way and his fitness and form improved during the second week of the tournament.

The advantage of having an extra day's break to recover before the final was crucial for Djokovic, who lifted for the big occasion in front of an enthusiastic crowd at Rod Laver Arena.

PANT KEEPS IMPROVING

Rishabh Pant's stature continues to grow, and he might be the most exciting cricketer to watch in the world. In his 18 Tests, the Indian's thrilling exploits with the bat have gained wide acclaim.

During the recent tour of Australia, the left-hander showed he was a match-winner but doubts about the quality of his glovework remained.

Going on his performances in the home series against England, Pant is becoming a more complete wicketkeeper-batsman.

He has shed weight, seems quicker on his feet and the results are evident.

On top of scoring dashing half-centuries in the opening two Tests at Chennai, his acrobatic work behind the stumps has earned some pretty high praise, including Australian great Adam Gilchrist.

Keeping was not easy on the pitch used for last week's match and his two stumpings in England's second innings were first-class as India levelled the series at one-all.

At 23, Pant averages almost 45 with the bat in Tests and appears destined for superstar status.

It's an appealing prospect for India and scary for the rest of the world.

  • This article is supported by the Judith Neilson Institute for Journalism and Ideas
This story Why Naomi Osaka's on top of world first appeared on The Canberra Times.