Rafael Nadal shows Stefanos Tsitsipas no mercy en route to Australian Open final

Eleanor Crooks 24/01/2019
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Rafael Nadal.

Rafael Nadal ended the Australian Open run of exciting young Greek Stefanos Tsitsipas in brutal fashion to reach his 25th grand slam final.

Tsitsipas was looking to become only the third man after Juan Martin del Potro and Novak Djokovic to beat both Roger Federer and Nadal at the same slam but was firmly put in his place as the Spaniard swept to a 6-2, 6-4, 6-0 victory in just an hour and 46 minutes.

Nadal will take on either Djokovic or Frenchman Lucas Pouille, who play their semi-final on Friday, in the title decider on Sunday.

Nadal, for whom this will be a fifth Australian Open final, arrived in Melbourne having not played a competitive match since the US Open because of a variety of injury issues, and he said: “It has been a great match, great tournament.

“I think I played very well every day. After a lot of months without playing, this court and this crowd have given me this unbelievable energy.

“To start the season like this when a few weeks ago when I was in Brisbane, having to take a very tough decision not to play there. In that moment it was difficult for me to imagine where I am today. Since the tournament started I’ve felt really, really well.”

On Tsitsipas, Nadal said: “He has everything to become a multi grand slam champion. When at this age he is already in the semi-finals, it says a lot of good things about him.”

Tsitsipas’ run and the flair with which he has played has been one of the stories of the tournament, and Melbourne’s large Greek community were once again out in force to support their man.

But opportunities to wave the blue and white flag were scarce, with Nadal getting off to a fast start and keep his foot pressed firmly down.

The Spaniard usually reserves this type of bulldozing performance through a draw for the French Open but he has barely put a foot wrong since arriving in Melbourne and this was the best performance of the lot.

Tsitsipas looked like he might have achieved a foothold when he recovered from 0-40 at 2-2 in the second set to hold serve with some fine attacking play.

It takes courage to continue to push forward against Nadal but the Greek’s defences were breached again as the second seed broke for 5-4 before serving it out.

By the third set, Tsitsipas’ belief that he could hit winning shots against his fearsome opponent had drained away and the end came swiftly.

Nadal will now look to win his second title at Melbourne Park 10 years after his first. The 32-year-old has made the final three more times but lost once each to Djokovic, Stan Wawrinka and, in an epic battle two years ago, Federer.

If he wins on Sunday, he will achieve something neither Federer nor Djokovic have managed by winning each slam title at least twice.

Provided by Press Association Sport

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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.

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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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