- Winning the Australian Open final would be a heartwarming culmination to Petra Kvitova’s comeback following a knife attack in 2016. Or a chance for Naomi Osaka to experience a grand slam win without the boos and controversy that accompanied her maiden title at the US Open.
Naomi Osaka will face off against Petra Kvitova in the final of the Australian Open on Saturday, as both seek their first title in Melbourne and a chance to seize the number one ranking.
It is the second consecutive major final for fourth seed Osaka, who was not well known until she defeated 23-time grand champion Serena Williams in the final of the US Open in September.
But that victory was embittered by Williams’ dispute with the umpire, which led to the then 20-year-old Osaka being booed at the prize-giving ceremony and bursting into tears.
A victory would give her a chance to purge those memories, as well as cementing her status as a top player and making her the first woman to win back-to-back titles since Williams in 2015.
For Pliskova meanwhile the match marks another milestone. It is her first at a grand slam since the two-time champion won Wimbledon in 2014 and the first since she was attacked at her home in 2016.
Her left hand, the hand that she plays with, was severely damaged in the attack by a knife-wielding stranger and it took months for her to recover and return to the sport.
Since then the 28-year-old Czech has struggled at grand slams, reaching just one quarter final, at the US Open in 2017.
“For the mental side it wasn’t really easy to deal with that, every time coming to the grand slam and losing,” Kvitova told reporters after her semi-final victory over Danielle Collins.
“Maybe that’s why it [the win] is probably sweeter than [it] should be.”
“I think not very many people believed that I can do that again, to stand on the court and play tennis and kind of play on this level,” the eighth seed added.
Osaka and Kvitova have never played each other before so there is no precedent for the final, though both are known for their powerful, aggressive style of play.
Despite her grand slam failures, Kvitova had a good 2018, winning five WTA titles and clinching her 26th career title at the Sydney International earlier this month.
Osaka’s year ended with a whimper, when she lost all her matches at the WTA Finals, withdrawing from the last one with a hamstring injury.
And starting her season this year in Brisbane, she admitted “sulking” during her semi-final loss to Ukraine’s Lesia Tsurenko.
But she said she had learned a lot from the experience of losing.
“The biggest thing I took away from that loss was the fact that I didn’t really try 100 per cent,” she told reporters on Thursday.
“I just accepted the fact that I was going to lose. For me, at this tournament, I wasn’t really focused on winning. I just wanted to make sure I tried 100 per cent on every point. I’m still here, so thankfully that’s working out.”
Nevertheless, the majority of Osaka’s matches in Melbourne have gone to three sets while Kvitova has won all her matches in straight sets.
“I’m playing the best players in the world, and I’ve been playing three sets most of the time,” Osaka said. “It’s more like a battle of will at this point.”
“I’ve watched her [Kvitova] play the Wimbledon finals,” she added. “I know what a great player she is. It’s definitely going to be very tough for me.”