Naomi Osaka has advanced to her first Australian Open final thanks to a thrilling three-set victory over Karolina Pliskova. In a match of the highest quality and studded with electrifying winners, Osaka held her nerve to record a 6-2 4-6 6-4 win.
The two women combined for 76 winners against 51 errors under the Rod Laver Arena roof on a scorching summer day in Melbourne.
Osaka, the reigning US Open champion, has built a 13-match winning streak at Grand Slam tournaments and will now meet Petra Kvitova for a shot at a second straight major title. The last player to win back-to-back Grand Slam trophies was Serena Williams in 2015.
Kvitova earlier on Thursday subdued surprise semifinalist Danielle Collins 7-6(2) 6-0.
Osaka showed in the very first game how dangerous she would be when she brought up a break point. She couldn’t convert that, but on her next attempt she fired back-to-back winners to break for 2-1.
It was a lead she would not relinquish, and the first example of Osaka’s ability to land consecutive knockout blows to shut Pliskova out. In the seventh game, back-to-back winners helped her to break point, before a rattled Pliskova double faulted to fall behind 5-2. Osaka then served out the first set with back-to-back aces, taking her winners tally for the set to 16 – compared with Pliskova’s four.
When Osaka broke in the opening game of the second, the match appeared headed for a speedy conclusion.
But Pliskova – who is playing some of the best tennis of her life, and was riding a 10-match winning streak thanks to her title in Brisbane – broke back immediately. Then, trailing 0-40 in the next game, the Czech hauled herself out of trouble and completed a gritty hold.
It was a clear confidence booster; Pliskova didn’t face another break point on serve for the remainder of the set.
Osaka continued to blaze away under the roof, striking winners seemingly at will and eliciting both gasps and appreciative applause from the crowd.
She had boosted her tally of winners to a staggering 40 by the end of the second set, but she was becoming somewhat over-stimulated, or over-zealous, in her shot-making. Two wild errors, which handed Pliskova a hold for 5-4, were followed by a squeal and a fling of the racquet from Osaka.
Whoever wins the final will be the new world No.1
In the next game, two more unforced errors from Osaka helped Pliskova break to love – and snatch the second set.
Pliskova won her third straight game when she held to open the deciding set, and accrued three break points in the next game, threatening to wrest control of a match that had, for most of the day, seemed very much out of her control.
Yet Osaka returned to her devastating ways, striking two bold winners to erase the first two and surviving the third. When she held for 1-1, she clutched at her visor in relief.
US Open Champion, Naomi Osaka will face Czech Petra Kvitova in the Australian Open final on Saturday. Both are first time finalists in Melbourne.
Osaka and Kvitova have never played against each other before and when they meet on Saturday, they will be playing for the Number One spot in tennis.
Kvitova is 28, while Naomi is 21.
Kvitova is the first Czech woman to reach the Melbourne final since Jana Novotna lost the 1991 decider to Monica Seles.
“It means everything. I really worked very hard, finally I made it deep in this tournament,” Kvitova said in her on-court interview.
“I am going to enjoy the final whatever happens. I am very, very happy.