In many respects, the fact that Kvitová made it to the final felt like a moral victory worth celebrating. In 2016, an armed intruder attacked Kvitová in her home in the Czech Republic, leaving her with severe knife wounds to her dominant left hand. That she’s been able to come back from that incident and regain the form that helped her win two Wimbledon titles, in 2011 and 2014, is already the feel-good sport story of the year. But on Saturday, her best simply wasn’t enough; Kvitová played a good match but at times seemed staggered by the speed and depth of the shots Osaka routinely sent over the net.
In victory, Osaka emanated a combination of humility, sweetness, and uncertainty. (While accepting the trophy, she told the crowd that public speaking wasn’t her strong suit, then admitted she’d forgotten the notes she’d written down to guide her through the speech.) But don’t be distracted by that self-deprecating humor. After sealing the match and kneeling down on the court for a moment, Osaka got up and flashed a look of pure confidence to her box. It was similar to the look she gave after sealing her semifinal victory with an ace. Naomi Osaka knows she belongs. She’s a star who promises to be around for quite some time, and her victory in Melbourne represents the dawn of a new era.
If women’s tennis has modeled parity in recent years, then the men’s tour has been the epitome of hierarchy, with Federer, Nadal, Novak Djokovic, and Andy Murray winning 53 of the last 60 grand-slam titles, a run of dominance the likes of which tennis has never experienced. Before the start of this year’s tournament, Murray announced his intention to retire, because of a lingering hip injury, at some yet-to-be-determined point in the future. The specter of Murray’s forthcoming retirement and some superb play in the early rounds by several young players initially gave this edition of the men’s Australian Open a feel of generational shift. When the 20-year-old Greek wunderkind Stefanos Tsitsipas, whose good looks and flowing locks evoke images of Apollo himself, upset Federer in the fourth round, John McEnroe literally told the gathered crowd in Rod Laver Arena, “You’re watching the changing of the guard.”
That sense of change was resolutely quashed in the semifinals when Nadal and Djokovic, respectively, demolished Tsitsipas and the 24-year-old Lucas Pouille, setting up a final between the top two players in the world that will start on Sunday at 3:30 a.m. eastern time. The intensity of those two beatdowns—Tsitsipas won only six games against Nadal; Pouille took a mere four off Djokovic—should serve as a reminder that any proclamations of a coming sea change in men’s tennis are pure hyperbole. At the moment, Djokovic and Nadal are the two best players in the men’s game by a long shot, and even at the ripe old age of 37, Federer is still a force to be reckoned with on faster courts, such as the lawns of Wimbledon. Murray’s diminished status technically marks the dissolution of the Big Four, but it’s safe to bet that this year’s grand-slam trophies will fall into the hands of the Remaining Three.