Japan’s Naomi Osaka battled past Czech eighth seed Petra Kvitova 7-6 (7/2), 5-7, 6-4 to win her first Australian Open crown Saturday and become the new world number one.
The fourth seed and US Open champion made it two Grand Slam titles in a row after a see-sawing 2hr 27min match.
The hard-fought victory made Osaka the first Asian, male or female, to hold the world’s top ranking, taking over from Romania’s Simona Halep.
A rattled Osaka almost blew her title hopes with one hand on the trophy when she failed to convert three championship points when up 5-3 in the second set.
The never-say-die Kvitova won four straight games to force a deciding set before Osaka finally edged ahead with a decisive break early in the third.
The Japanese youngster fell to one knee in celebration, head bowed, after her epic win as Melbourne Park erupted in thunderous cheers.
It was a marked contrast to her maiden Slam win last year, when Osaka cried as boos rang around Flushing Meadows following losing finalist Serena Williams’ tirade at the umpire.
This time, Osaka wept tears of joy and smiled as she became the youngest woman to win back-to-back majors since Martina Hingis in 1998 and the youngest number one since Caroline Wozniacki in 2010.
Her performance confirms her status as the leading light of tennis’ new generation.