Naomi Osaka on track for second straight Grand Slam as beats Karolina Pliskova in Melbourne thriller to reach Australian Open final
- Naomi Osaka beat Karolina Pliskova to reach Saturday’s Australian Open final
- Osaka hit five aces and did not face a break point as she won the first set 6-2
- The 21-year-old broke at the start of set two but Pliskova hit back to take it 6-4
- Osaka saved three break points early in the decider and then broke to love
- With momentum behind her, Osaka powered on to seal victory after 113 minutes
Naomi Osaka underlined her status as a genuine star when she backed up her US Open title by giving herself a shot at winning a second Grand Slam in succession.
On a day of soaring temperatures, the roof was shut on the Rod Laver Arena as the Flushing Meadows champion edged her way past Serena Williams’s conqueror Karolina Pliskova, 6-2, 4-6, 6-4 in an hour and 53 minutes.
In the last 12 years multiple female players have suffered a letdown after claiming their first Major but not the cosmopolitan Osaka, who is the authentic article.
Naomi Osaka beat Karolina Pliskova 6-2, 4-6, 6-4 to reach Saturday’s Australian Open final
Pliskova performed excellently but was ultimately outplayed in what was a Grand Slam classic
Osaka wore a huge smile and raised both of her arms in the air as she celebrated her victory
Fourth seed Osaka returned serve well and broke her opponent four times on Rod Laver Arena
She now faces Petra Kvitova, who overcame American outsider Danielle Collins 7-6 6-0. Kvitova is in her first Grand Slam final since Wimbledon 2014, and for the first time since she suffered a knife attack in her home just over two years ago.
Whoever wins on Saturday will become the new world No 1. If it is Kvitova she would become the ninth straight different women’s singles winner at one of the big four tournaments.
‘I kind of expected her to come back, I was expecting a really hard battle and I told myself to regroup in the third set,’ said Osaka after the match, before admitting: ‘I was so scared serving second serves I was like “Oh my God please!”‘
She was disappointed that the roof was closed, despite temperatures being into the forties.
‘I like the heat so I was kind of sad about that,’ she said. ‘They had the roof open and I thought it’s my time to shine.’
This was the first day the southern hemisphere heat really bared its teeth with temperatures going over the 100 mark. The heat index in use requires it to reach an extreme ‘five’ to cause the closure of the roof, and it soared beyond that, hitting 5.9.
Junior matches were suspended outdoors and the roof was closed during the first set of the Collins-Kvitova match at 4-4 – to the American’s chagrin – and for the duration of Osaka’s encounter against Pliskova.
Osaka served excellently and delivered 15 aces — 12 more than her opponent produced
Twenty-one-year-old Osaka celebrated winning a point with a clenched left fist in Melbourne
Pliskova, who had beaten seven-time champ Serena Williams 24 hours earlier, looked focussed
Osaka raised her finger to challenge a line judge’s call using the Hawk-Eye review system
In a match featuring two powerful servers, Osaka did not face a break point in the first set but created six against her long-levered opponent, two of which were taken. Osaka’s returns were excellent, as it was not the case that the Czech’s serve was off at the start, three of out of four first serves landing in during the opener. She did, however, toss in three double faults in the first set, and could not register any aces.
Watched by Australian showbiz royalty Nicole Kidman and British fashion icon Anna Wintour, Osaka’s forehand was doing plenty of damage and she broke to extend her lead at the start of the second set.
The winners kept coming from her racket, but there was an increase in errors that allowed Pliskova straight back in and she levelled the match when Osaka played a particularly erratic game at 4-5 when serving.
It looked like Pliskova had the momentum at the start of the third and she missed three break points to take a 2-0 lead in the decider. As so often happens, the disappointment of not taking them weighed heavily, and she was immediately broken to love herself.
The Czech threatened to come back as she had done against Serena Williams, and forced a break point at 3-4 but the Japanese player determinedly held her off, and hid any nerves as she closed it out.
Pliskova used a colorful towel to dry her face during a change of ends at a hot Melbourne Park
Osaka refuelled by taking a sip of water during a break between games in Thursday’s semi-final
No 7 seed Pliskova played very well in what was one of the matches of the tournament so far