Fixture: (3) Naomi Osaka vs (22) Jennifer Brady
Date: 20 February 2021
Tournament: Australian Open 2021
Venue: Melbourne, Australia
Category: Grand Slam
Surface: Outdoor Hardcourt
Prize money: AUD $80 million
Match timing: 7.30 pm local time, 2 pm IST
Live Telecast: USA - Tennis Channel | India - Sony Six
Naomi Osaka vs Jennifer Brady preview
Osaka has shown nerves of steel under pressure over the last six months. In the US Open final last summer, the Japanese rallied from a set and a break down to beat Victoria Azarenka and claim her third Slam title. Osaka did much of the same on Thursday when facing arguably the best women's player to ever hold a racquet.
The 23-year-old conceded an early break in the semifinals, and was one point away from going down 0-3. But from there, Osaka steadied the ship and pretty much cantered to a 6-3, 6-4 win, dropping her serve just once more along the way.
The Japanese's staunch determination is further reinforced by the fact that she has never lost after reaching the quarterfinal stage at a Major. Her hunger for success and ability to quickly hit the reset button have made her the most consistent player on hardcourts since 2018.
Naomi Osaka's scintillating run since the tour resumed last August has now extended her fabulous winning streak to 20 matches. She will aim to keep the run going as she sets her sights on reclaiming the Australian Open title two years after winning it for the first time.
On the other hand, Jennifer Brady's recent exploits on hardcourts have been rewarded with her maiden Slam final appearance. The former collegiate player has been a revelation since August.
Brady tasted title glory on the WTA tour for the very first time at Lexington, right after the tour resumed. Semifinal appearances at the US Open and Ostrava followed as she ended the season on a high.
The American continued from where she left off at the start of 2021, with yet another run to the last-four at the Grampians Trophy. Now at the Australian Open, she has defeated a string of quality opponents to reach the title clash.
Brady's path to the final hasn't been as smooth as that of Osaka, but she has overcome every challenge thrown at her with aplomb. The World No. 24 needed three sets to get past her compatriot Jessica Pegula in the quarters, and another three to beat 25th seed Karolina Muchova in the semis.
The latter in particular was quite a test. On a day when she struggled with her serve and her shot-making consistency, Brady summoned a lot of courage to get the 6-4, 3-6, 6-4 win.
The gutsy effort only underlines the confidence that the American has built over the past few months as she continues to climb up the tour hierarchy.
Naomi Osaka vs Jennifer Brady head-to-head
Naomi Osaka and Jennifer Brady have squared off three times in the past, with the Japanese leading their head-to-head 2-1.
Brady won their first-ever meeting at New Braunfels in 2014, but it has been all Osaka since then. The former World No. 1 recorded a gritty 7-6(1), 3-6, 6-3 win in their most recent showdown at the US Open 2020 semifinals.
Naomi Osaka vs Jennifer Brady prediction
By dint of her experience and form, Naomi Osaka is the favorite to come through this encounter. The Japanese has been a model of consistency for a couple of years now and knows how to inspire herself even when the chips are down.
Osaka's mental fortitude sets her apart from the rest of the younger generation. And after facing Serena Williams in the semis, the Japanese will be ready for yet another big-hitting match.
Strong serving will be the foundation for both Naomi Osaka and Jennifer Brady on Saturday. Osaka knows she needs to do better than the 45% first serve percentage she produced against Williams. And for Brady, a repeat of the 50% first serve rate that she had against Muchova will be suicidal.
Another factor that will be crucial for Brady is her unforced error count. The American struggles with controlling her aggression at times, which Muchova immediately pounced on during their semifinal. Brady committed as many as 38 unforced errors and required a 12-minute error-strewn last game to close out the match.
Needless to say, she cannot afford to let that happen again if she hopes to make the final competitive. Brady needs to dictate with her forehand and seize the opportunity to come forward in order to keep Osaka pinned to the baseline.
That said, the American isn't one of the best players when it comes to lateral movement, and Osaka will look to use her brilliant angles to keep the ball out of her reach. Nerves might also kick in for Brady given this is her first Slam final, and that could tilt the balance further in favor of Osaka.
Prediction: Naomi Osaka to win in two tight sets.