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Naomi Osaka proud of fighting spirit as Japanese star moves into back-to-back Grand Slam finals

Leye Aduloju in WTA Tour 24 Jan 2019
  • Naomi Osaka beat Karolina Pliskova 6-2 4-6 6-4 to reach the Australian Open final
  • Osaka stretched her Grand Slam winning streak to 13 matches, dating back to last year's US Open triumph
  • Osaka will take on Petra Kvitova in Saturday's final
Naomi Osaka. (Photo by Quinn Rooney/Getty Images)

Beyond the aces and spectacular winners, there was a steely refusal to lose from Naomi Osaka as the Japanese star battled past Karolina Pliskova to move into the final of the Australian Open.

US Open champion, Osaka defeated Pliskova 6-2 4-6 6-4 to qualify for her second straight Grand Slam final, stretching her winning at the majors to 13 matches. 

“…what I take away from this is that I never gave up, and that's something that I'm really proud of myself for”, she said after the match. “There are moments in the match where I thought, like, ‘This is getting really close’. I just thought I wouldn't forgive myself if I had, like, a little dip or a moment of accepting defeat”.

This is not the first time Osaka has had to dig deep in this tournament, as she fought back from 5-7 1-4 down against Su-Wei Hsieh in the third round, and recovered from the loss of the opening set to beat Anastasija Sevastova in the round of 16.

Osaka made a blistering start against Pliskova, unfurling a barrage of breathtaking winners as she built up a set and a break lead, but just when it seemed she would run away with the match, Pliskova raised her level and finally got into the contest. The Czech began to get some more meaningful returns in play, breaking back for 1-1 in the second set, and when she battled back from 0-40 to take a 2-1 lead, she had finally sunk her teeth into this semi-final.

Pliskova brought up a break point at 4-3 with a forehand winner, but Osaka responded in kind, blazing a forehand past her static opponent to fend off the danger. However, the Japanese slipped into even bigger trouble in her next service game, spraying a wild forehand long to fall into a 0-40 hole, and there was no escape this time, as Pliskova hit a forceful forehand to force the break, and with it, the set to even the match.

Pliskova slammed an ace down the middle to seal the opening game of the deciding set, and for the first time in the match, she had a lead. With momentum on her side, the Czech pushed for the early break in the next game, carving out three break points, but Osaka superbly fended off all three, digging deep to secure a pivotal hold. She saved the first with a forehand winner, and then the second with a supreme backhand down the line, and then a third with another big backhand that drew an error from her opponent, each point accompanied with a fist pump and a big ‘come on’. It was a brave riposte from the Japanese, as she found the courage to go for her shots under the most extreme pressure.

“I felt like I have to keep pumping myself up. Every time there's an opportunity or something doesn't go my way, I had to keep being very positive. That's what the c'mons were for”.

Having survived that adversity, Osaka made her move in the next game. Her umpteenth forehand winner took the Japanese star to 0-40 on Pliskova’s serve, and she secured the break when Pliskova drove a tentative backhand beyond the baseline. The Czech was not going to go away without a fight- after all, she had battled back from 5-1 down to beat the great Serena Williams about 24 hours earlier-and she made one last push to restore parity, when she engineered a break point with Osaka serving at 4-3. The Japanese though, was ready for the challenge, banging down an ace out wide to erase the break point. 

Pliskova got to 30-30 as Osaka attempted to serve out the match, but the Japanese put away a nerveless forehand to bring up her first match point, and that was all she needed as she sent down her 15th ace of the match to book her spot in a second consecutive Grand Slam final. Her match-winning ace was initially called out, but Osaka challenged successfully, and could break into a little jump, and continue her now familiar celebratory smile.  

“I mean, it's a little bit unreal. At the same time I realize the work that I put in during the off-season. Every match that I played, I tried my best. It just felt like it was a continuous effort”. 
“I can't believe about the same time it's sort of the reality I am in right now, so I can only keep going forward from here”.

In the end, Osaka was rewarded for her aggression- she hit 56 winners to Pliskova’s 20, and crucially kept the unforced errors down to 30.

The Japanese will now take on Petra Kvitova on Saturday, with the Australian Open title, and the world No. 1 ranking, on the line.

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Naomi Osaka proud of fighting spirit as Japanese star moves into back-to-back Grand Slam finals

Naomi Osaka withstood a brave fightback from Karolina Pliskova to move into the Australian Open final.

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