(CNN) — When the women’s final at the Australian Open was over, Li Na did the honors in presenting the Daphne Akhurst trophy to Naomi Osaka who had just downed Petra Kvitova 7-6 (7-2) 5-7 6-4 in a dramatic, high-quality affair.
Perhaps that was fitting — China’s tennis trailblazer figuratively passing the torch to Japan’s Osaka who is one of Asia’s biggest sports stars and figures to be a major force globally, too, for many, many years to come.
She will also become the new world No. 1 on Monday, the first player from her nation to ever achieve the feat.
And Osaka sure had to show her resolve to prevail in Melbourne after missing out on three consecutive match points at 5-3 in the second set.
Osaka has now matched the soon-to-be Hall of Famer Li in majors on two and did something not witnessed in the women’s game in 18 years, landing her first two grand slam titles back-to-back.
The 21-year-old is only the sixth female player in the Open Era to do so, joining Chris Evert, Evonne Goolagong, Hana Mandlikova, Venus Williams and most recently, Jennifer Capriati in 2001.
Goolagong looked on from Rod Laver Arena while Evert has been in Melbourne commentating for ESPN.
This time Osaka was presumably able to fully enjoy the moment, unlike at the US Open in September when controversy erupted in her tussle with Serena Williams through no fault of her own.
Boos rained down from the crowd in New York during the trophy ceremony after Williams clashed with chair umpire Carlos Ramos in the second set. A different drama back then, little to do with winners or unforced errors.
Osaka was left in tears, though on Saturday she appeared to shed tears of joy. There were no boos for either participant.
“Sorry, public speaking isn’t my strong point so I hope I can get through this,” joked Osaka after being handed the trophy.
“I wouldn’t have wanted this to be our first match but huge congratulations to you [Kvitova] and your team. You are amazing and I am honored to have played you in a grand slam final.”
Kvitova has pulled off one of sports’ greatest comebacks simply by returning to the tour after she was stabbed in a home invasion three years ago. She fought for her life and staved off the attacker with her left, playing hand. Hours of surgery followed.
“It’s crazy,” said Kvitova. “I can’t believe I have just played in the final of grand slam again.
“It was a great final. Well done Naomi, to her team as well. You really played well. Congratulations for being world No. 1 as well.”
Hopefully there will be more opportunities for twice Wimbledon champion Kvitova to win a third major and first since that horrific ordeal.
But ultimately this fortnight belonged to Osaka.
The manner of the Japanese star’s victory was an example of her continued, impressive progress, starting with the way she bounced back after Kvitova saved those three match points to force a third.
It looked like it would all get away from Osaka, who double faulted to end the second set after two net cords went against her serving at 5-6. A bathroom break ensued.
But she broke for 3-1 in the third and hung on, despite watching Kvitova blasting her serve to save three straight break points at 2-4.
Adding to the drama, drops of rain began to fall as Osaka tried to serve out the contest. She was successful, ending with a service winner down the middle.
Overall she struck nine aces and led the women’s event in total with 59.
Even before the third set, when she needed to elevate her game to save break points in the first — five of them — she duly produced the goods in the fifth and seventh games.
When she needed to recover quickly after missing two set points at 5-6, she also did, playing a faultless tiebreak.
How important was the first set? Osaka has now won 60 matches in a row when snagging the opening frame.
Defeats for the Czech in finals are exceedingly rare, having owned a 26-7 record entering proceedings and winning her last eight.
No one except Osaka took sets off Kvitova in Melbourne.
The final served as an extension of Osaka’s resilience this fortnight. One hurdle after another was overcome.
Twice she rallied from a set down to prevail in matches after she had only done that twice all of last season.
Both those wins came against the unorthodox styles of Hsieh Su-Wei and Anastasija Sevastova.
Away from the court, she was forced to answer questions about a “whitewashing” controversy stemming from one of her sponsors, Nissin.
Osaka and Novak Djokovic were the singles winners at the US Open and that double is still a possibility in Melbourne, since the Serb plays Rafael Nadal in a blockbuster men’s final Sunday.
The duo have combined for 31 majors.
Osaka can’t match that just yet but based on her performances at the last two majors, more such titles are on the way.
This content was republished with permission from CNN.