5 min read
When players arrived in Melbourne nearly five weeks ago, it was difficult to imagine crowning two new Australian Open champions following quarantine, warm-up events and a host of other uncertainties. Against the odds, the gleaming silver hardware is in sight, with the men’s and women’s singles finals to be played over the weekend. As excitement builds ahead of each championship match, let’s take a look at the athletes’ unique storyline and how UTR data can help build a more complete preview picture.
After the tennis world widely hailed their US Open semifinal faceoff as one of the best matches of 2020, Naomi Osaka and Jennifer Brady will meet once again – this time with a Grand Slam title on the line.
Given that performance five months ago and their respective paths to the Australian Open final, it’s perhaps no surprise that UTR’s “Win Probability” separates the two by the smallest of margins, giving a slight edge to Osaka at 61%.
The Japanese native is riding a 20-match win streak into her matchup with Brady. She is looking to capture her second Australian Open championship and fourth Grand Slam title overall, extending her perfect record in major finals.
“I have this mentality that people don't remember the runners up,” Osaka said following her straight-sets win over Serena Williams in the semifinals. “You might, but the winner's name is the one that's engraved. I think I fight the hardest in finals. That's where you set yourself apart.”
Despite her position as the third seed in Melbourne, the 23-year-old holds the top UTR rank with a UTR of 13.35, which is perhaps no surprise given how well she navigated a brutal bottom half of the draw.
Six-time major quarterfinalist Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova, former world No. 4 Caroline Garcia, tricky Tunisian Ons Jabeur, two-time major champion Garbine Muguruza, variety queen Hsieh Su-wei and 23-time major champion Williams stood in Osaka’s path to the final, and she made relatively quick work of all but one.
Osaka’s most challenging matchup by UTR was her fourth-round showdown with Spain’s Muguruza, who reached the Australian Open final last year and came into the match with a 13.11 rating (No. 6 UTR rank). The closer two players’ UTR, the more competitive their match should be, and this one lived up to the hype. Osaka saved two match points serving at 3-5 in the third set, only to reel off four straight games to seal the win and advance to the quarterfinals.
Osaka’s strength on hard courts and clutch performance on the biggest stages in tennis (three of her six titles have come at Grand Slam events) speak for themselves, but one of the most impressive aspects of her return to the Australian Open final is that she’s done it with remarkably little match play.
Prior to the Gippsland Trophy warmup event in Melbourne, in which she withdrew in the semifinals, Osaka had not played since the three weeks in New York last summer, where she reached the Cincinnati final and captured her second US Open title. Before that, her last match was a loss to world No. 78 Sara Sorribes Tormo (UTR 12.67) in the Japan vs. Spain Fed Cup tie almost one year ago.
As Osaka looks to capture a major title for the fourth consecutive year, she’ll need to get a third career win over Jennifer Brady who, per UTR data, provided Osaka with her toughest matchup and best win in the past year in their aforementioned US Open semifinal.
Brady’s WTA ranking sits at No. 24 in the world, but her current UTR Rank is No. 4 (13.19) behind only Osaka, Ashleigh Barty and Simona Halep. In addition, her three-month trending UTR puts her in at the No. 3 slot, reflecting her impressive 2020 both before and after the pandemic layoff, where she notched wins over Barty, Elina Svitolina and Muguruza.
The 25-year-old Pennsylvania native also won her first title in Lexington last summer and went on to reach her first major semifinal at the US Open. She finished her 2020 season with another semifinal run in Ostrava.
Though Brady’s top half of the Australian Open draw was not as power-packed as its neighbor to the south, the UTR rankings of her opponents show the danger she has faced en route to the final.
Despite a WTA rank of No. 61, Jessica Pegula’s UTR rank sits at No. 28 after a slow and steady rise that culminated in her first Grand Slam quarterfinal appearance this week. Karolina Muchova, who took out top seed Barty in the quarterfinals, has a UTR rank of No. 15, which also trends well above her WTA rank of No. 27. With UTRs of 13.19 and 12.86, respectively, it’s no surprise Brady needed three sets to oust Muchova and advance to her first major final.
As for her rematch with Osaka, Brady knows her first Grand Slam title won’t come easily. No matter who emerges victorious on Saturday, it will be considered a new “best win” for the champion in terms of UTR, with just .14 separating Osaka and Brady. But there’s also a key element that can’t be quantified on paper: the one that resides between the ears.
“I don't know how I'm going to feel,” Brady said. “I can say I can enjoy the moment and just try to play tennis and not really think too much about it, but there are going to be moments, there are going to be games, there are going to be points where I'm going to be thinking, ‘Wow, this could be my first Grand Slam title.’ I will definitely have those thoughts, but it's more just trying to control the emotions.”