Naomi Osaka of Japan achieved what the sport has yearned for in the last decade: The advent of a champion from the next generation. In the finals of the Australian Open against Petra Kvitova of Czech Republic, there was an injection of drama over the winning point for the title. Just as Naomi was about to start rejoicing at what seemed to be an ace, a late “out” call was yelled by the line umpire watching the middle service line.
Naomi looked quickly towards her team and raised a challenge in time. As the video replay was coming on the screen, she folded her palms around her racket in apparent supplication. The ball had caught a bite of the line. She had won and risen to the number one spot.
In the quarterfinals, Serena Williams had the first match point against Karolina Pliskova. Attempting to end the match, she delivered a powerful serve to the left sideline and it was called “out.” Why didn’t she challenge the call, as it was awfully close? If her challenge were successful, that would have been the end of the match.
During a rally on the next point, Serena slipped and her left ankle got twisted. She lost the game for 5-2 and did not win a game thereafter.
There is great symbolism in the similarity between the two service calls. In Serena’s quarterfinal match against Karolina Pliskova, the unchallenged call was the point that denied Serena the victory and prevented her facing Naomi Osaka in the semifinals. It was the point that set the stage for Naomi’s ascendancy.
In the finals, Osaka won the first set in a tie breaker but suffered an early service break to fall behind 0-2. Then she won four straight games and led 5-3. With defeat staring her in the face, Kvitova held to stay in the match and then broke her opponent’s serve in the ninth game. Serving for the match, Osaka won only one point in conceding the game. The Czech lady proceeded to win the set. Did Osaka blink at the sight of victory? In the deciding set, however, Osaka marched on to victory after an early break of her opponent’s serve in the third game.