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Dublin: 6 °C Thursday 12 December, 2019

Kvitova makes first Grand Slam final since knife attack

Czech star will face Naomi Osaka in the Australian Open final.

PETRA KVITOVA PROVED any lingering doubters wrong today by reaching her maiden Australian Open final and a first Grand Slam decider since a knife attack derailed her career.

TENNIS: JAN 24 Australian Open Kvitova celebrates in the Rod Laver arena. Source: Chaz Niell

The two-time Wimbledon champion stormed past debutant Danielle Collins 7-6 (7/2), 6-0 in their semi-final after the closure of the roof – due to Melbourne temperatures surging above 36 degrees Celsius heat – gave the Czech a boost.

Reaching the final is the highlight of what Kvitova calls her “second career”, after she returned following a terrifying attack in her home in the Czech Republic in late 2016.

A burglar slashed her racquet hand, sidelining her for almost six months and causing permanent nerve damage.

“It means everything, finally I can make it deep in this major and whatever happens I’m very happy,” the big-serving left-hander said.

She also had a dig at those who believed she would never again hit the heights she enjoyed before her life was turned upside down.

“It’s been a while. It’s been five years,” she said, referring to her last Grand Slam final.

“You know, that’s why I worked pretty hard to be back here. It just tastes very great.

To be honest, I think not very many people believed that I could do that again, to stand on the court and play tennis and kind of play on this level. It was just really few of them, I think.”

“I’m very happy to have those few around me, which is the best. Hopefully (this will be) for them, for my family and for everybody who was there when I needed it.”

Czech eighth seed Kvitova said until the closure of the roof, she was struggling to find her best form.

“I’m really glad that it (form) came in the tie-break and in the second set,” she said.

“I think I was happier than the fans when the roof closed, I like to play indoors and I think that helped me a little bit.”

Collins, who had a dream run to make the final four on her Australian debut, became flustered after Kvitova won a first-set tie-breaker and her game fell apart in the second set.

Kvitova, who is on an 11-match win streak after winning the Sydney International warm-up tournament, will claim the number one ranking if she lifts the trophy on Saturday, deposing Romania’s Simona Halep.

World number 35 Collins, who a year ago was ranked 167, will rise to 23 as a result of her run to the final four.

The combative American, who took Kvitova to three sets in their only previous meeting, initially performed strongly to force a first-set tie-break.

She was matching Kvitova’s power hitting when the roof was closed mid-way through the set at 4-4 to shut out the afternoon sun. But Collins lost her cool when Kvitova ran away with it 7-2 and argued with the umpire at the beginning of the second set.

“Every time I hit a good serve or win the point there’s something,” she told umpire Carlos Ramos, the same official who was the subject of Serena Williams’ infamous rant in last year’s US Open final.

TENNIS: JAN 24 Australian Open Collins takes issue. Source: Jason Heidrich

Kvitova, vastly more experienced than her opponent, kept her composure and won the second set at a canter.

“Definitely everything is coming together. It’s very connected. I’m happy for that,” said the Czech star.

Kvitova will be joined in the final by fourth seed Naomi Osaka, who outgunned Karolina Pliskova.

The 21-year-old Japanese star overcame the seventh seed 6-2, 4-6, 6-4 to reach a second straight Grand Slam decider after her breakthrough triumph over Williams in New York.

Osaka started strongly to take the first set as the match began with the roof of Rod Laver Arena closed amid sweltering heat. But Pliskova, who ousted American great Williams with an epic comeback to make the semi-finals on Wednesday, roared back in the second before Osaka edged past her in the third.

“I expected it, I expected a really hard battle,” Osaka said of Pliskova’s attempt to come back from a set and a break down.

“I just told myself to regroup in the third set and try as hard as I could no matter what, and I managed to win.”

She said her win at Flushing Meadows helped settle her nerves against the never-say-die Czech.

“I was so scared serving second serves, I was like ‘oh my God, please!’” she said. “I guess that’s experience, I don’t know.

Osaka is bidding to become the first woman since Serena Williams in 2015 to win the US and Australian Opens back to back. 

She will also become the new world number one, replacing Romania’s Simona Halep, if she beats Kvitova in the final.

Pliskova was the bookies’ favourite for the title after her effort against Williams but made a slow start, hitting only four winners to Osaka’s 16 in the first set. 

The fired-up Japanese star also dominated on serve as she ended Pliskova’s 10-match winning streak.

Australian Open Tennis Osaka celebrates a point against Pliskova. Source: Andy Brownbill

After blasting down an ace in her first service game, Osaka carved out three break points on Pliskova’s serve.  A blistering backhand gave her the advantage following a baseline slugfest with the Czech. Pliskova double faulted to hand Osaka a second break and the Japanese star went on to serve out the set with an ace after 32 minutes. 

The opening four games of the second set all went against serve as Pliskova threw everything at Osaka trying to find a way back into the match. Osaka absorbed the pressure and continued to play her shots as the dogged Czech went on the attack. She held on until two unforced errors, trailing at 5-4, handed a jubilant Pliskova the second set after 41 minutes. 

Osaka managed a crucial hold as the third game of the third set turned into a seven-minute arm-wrestle, fending off three break points.  She then broke in the next game but Pliskova continued to press and the Japanese player had to see off break point with an ace before serving out the match. 

She hit another ace on match point which was called out but successfully challenged the decision to ensure she made the final.

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