Osaka outguns Pliskova to set up Australian Open title clash with Kvitova

Eleanor Crooks 24/01/2019
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Naomi Osaka celebrates after defeating Karolina Pliskova.

Naomi Osaka kept her hopes of winning back-to-back grand slam titles alive by dispatching Serena Williams’ conqueror Karolina Pliskova to reach the Australian Open final.

Osaka produced a brutal display of power hitting under the roof on Rod Laver Arena, striking 56 winners in a 6-2, 4-6, 6-4 victory and will face Petra Kvitova on Saturday.

The 21-year-old’s achievement makes her the first women to back up a first slam title by making the final of the next major tournament since Jennifer Capriati in 2001.

As well as the title, the world number one ranking will also be on the line on Saturday, with Kvitova and Osaka both looking to get there for the first time.

Capriati followed her maiden title in Australia 18 years ago by winning the French Open and, if Osaka can maintain the form she showed in this match, then there is no reason why she cannot emulate that.

Having survived tough battles against the unconventional pair of Hsieh Su-wei and Anastasija Sevastova earlier in the tournament, Osaka certainly looked more comfortable taking on a fellow ball-basher.

And bash the ball she did, repeatedly into the corners, off both forehand and backhand, to win the first set.

Osaka had won her previous 58 matches after winning the first set but – following her remarkable comeback to beat Williams – Pliskova would have known that no cause was impossible.

Osaka broke serve again at the start of the second set but then gave it straight back with a poor game and slowly the momentum began to shift, the two women trading fiercer and fiercer blows.

Osaka produced some fine play to hold off her opponent at 3-4 but two games later Pliskova broke to love to take the match to a decider.

The 26-year-old, who reached her only slam final at the US Open in 2016, looked to continue her momentum at the start of the decider but Osaka saved three break points before playing a tremendous return game to move 2-1 ahead.

Pliskova had one chance to get back on level terms in the eighth game but Osaka served an ace, and then another one – given by HawkEye – to clinch the victory.

Provided by Press Association Sport

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Kvitova blazes past Collins to enter maiden Australian Open final

Eleanor Crooks 24/01/2019
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Petra Kvitova defeated Danielle Collins.

Petra Kvitova blazed her way into her first Australian Open final with victory over Danielle Collins under the roof on Rod Laver Arena.

With temperatures soaring towards 40 degree Celsius in Melbourne, the tournament’s new extreme heat policy came into play and the roof was closed with the score at 4-4 in the first set.

Kvitova, who has struggled in the past in hot conditions, found the cooler temperatures much more to her liking and powered to a 7-6 (2) 6-0 victory in an hour and 34 minutes.

This is the Czech’s first grand slam final outside of the two Wimbledon titles she won in 2011 and 2014, and she said: “It means everything.

“That’s why I really work very hard to be in the finals of tournaments. Finally I could make it deep in this major and I will enjoy the final whatever happens. I’m really very, very happy.”

Asked about the closing of the roof, Kvitova said: “The first set was very tight, I was pretty nervous. I think I was happier than the fans that the roof closed. I like playing indoors. It was kind of warm. If it was open I was still going to fight so it doesn’t really matter.”

Kvitova had gone from being distinctly under the radar to the title favourite in a couple of days so, as well as being a physical examination, this was a test of how well the Czech could keep her mental cool.

Collins’ run has been one of the stories of the tournament and the 25-year-old, who had never previously won a grand slam match, is a confident character who was never likely to be overawed by the occasion.

She showed just that early on as she broke the Kvitova serve to lead 3-2, but the eighth seed also brings a fierce intensity to the court and there were several of her famous screams of ‘pojd'(Czech for ‘come on’) as she broke back immediately.

Collins looked unhappy about the decision to shut the roof, perhaps knowing that, as a Florida native, the heat could have given her a crucial advantage.

Still there was nothing to choose between them until the tie-break, when Kvitova stepped up to a new level and left a frustrated Collins in her wake.

The American had a brief exchange with umpire Carlos Ramos, the central figure in last year’s US Open final drama, over his decision to replay a point after an over-rule but by that point was already 5-1 behind.

Kvitova was now well and truly in her groove and Collins found herself helpless in the second set as the eighth seed blasted 13 winners in six games.

Provided by Press Association Sport

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New generation beats old as Stefanos Tsitsipas upstages Roger Federer at Australian Open

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Roger Federer‘s chances of winning a third consecutive Australian Open title were ended as 20-year-old Stefanos Tsitsipas came of age on Rod Laver Arena.

The Greek, who was not born when Federer made his professional debut, has rapidly established himself as one of the most exciting up-and-coming talents in the game and backed it up spectacularly with a 6-7 (11) 7-6 (3) 7-5 7-6 (5) victory to move through to a first grand slam quarter-final.

Federer had not lost a match at Melbourne Park since a semi-final defeat to Novak Djokovic in 2016 but his often brilliant forehand was wayward, especially at the big moments, and he failed to take four set points in the second set that might well have changed the outcome.

The 37-year-old must have glimpsed something of his younger self in his opponent, from the flowing single-handed backhand, the willingness to charge the net, and the confidence to believe he could beat his childhood idol, just as Federer did to Pete Sampras at Wimbledon in 2001.

Tsitsipas said: “Roger is a legend of the sport, (I have) so much respect for him. He showed such good tennis over the years. I’ve been idolising him since the age of six. It was a dream come true just being on Rod Laver facing him. Winning at the end, I cannot describe it.”

There was drama from the first game, when Tsitsipas was given two time violations, resulting in the loss of a first serve, and saved two break points.

But from there he grew into the match impressively and held his serve more comfortably than Federer, who was struggling to find the timing on his forehand, through to the tie-break.

With the tension levels creeping up and up during a dramatic game, Tsitsipas had three set-point opportunities but could not take them and it was Federer who pounced, taking advantage when his opponent appeared to be put off by a shout from the crowd.

Tsitsipas has received raucous support during the tournament from Melbourne’s large Greek population but, with Rod Laver Arena not open to ground pass holders, most of them had to make do with cheering him on from in front of the big screen.

The noise, which could be heard in Laver, gradually reduced as Federer began to pile on the pressure in the second set. Tsitsipas saved four break points across two long service games and then four set points at 4-5.

But that galvanised the young Greek, who stands out from the crowd not just with his flamboyant game but his love of photography and philosophy, and he played much the better tie-break to level the match.

Federer had tightened back up, with his forehand a liability whenever he had an opportunity to press. Having failed to take any of 10 break points across the first two sets, he missed two more chances in the sixth game of the third set.

In the next game, Tsitsipas had his first two openings on Federer’s serve but the Swiss, too, stood firm. However, serving at 5-6, Federer again coughed up two opportunities and this time Tsitsipas took one, inevitably on a forehand error.

Rather like when he wilted in the heat against John Millman at the same stage of the US Open, this was a reminder that Federer is trying to achieve unprecedented things, and even the greatest cannot win the ageing game.

But, if Federer was feeling the pace, so was Tsitsipas, who called the trainer for a leg massage at 4-3, much to the annoyance of his opponent, who was serving next.

The set would be decided by another tie-break, and Federer showed he was not finished quite yet with a brilliant running forehand winner to make it 2-2.

However, another missed forehand gave Tsitsipas a first match point, and he did not blink.

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