Irrepressible Osaka on run to remember as slam success continues

Naomi Osaka celebrates her win over Karolina Pliskova at the Australian Open

Naomi Osaka has become unstoppable at grand slams and victory over Petra Kvitova would be her 14th win in succession at the highest level.

Petra Kvitova’s return to a grand slam final represents the most heart-warming of stories, but the popular Czech will need to succeed where 13 others have failed if Naomi Osaka is to be denied Australian Open glory.

Kvitova stands one victory away from securing a third slam crown and her first since the horrendous knife attack that threatened her career in December 2016.

Naomi Osaka shares her thoughts following her win in the Australian Open final over Karolina Pliskova

Yet while the left-hander has displayed imperious form over the past fortnight, not dropping a single set on her way to the final, she now faces the significant challenge of overcoming a 21-year-old who has swiftly become unstoppable on the biggest stage.

Osaka was the world number 72 this time last year and had just achieved her best result at a slam, reaching the fourth round at Melbourne Park.

Fast forward 12 months and the Japanese is targeting a second slam in succession, her winning streak of 13 matches across the US Open and this event representing the longest such run by a female player since Serena Williams’ second ‘Serena Slam’ across 2014 and 2015.

Williams, of course, was on the receiving end of Osaka’s brilliance in New York last September, when the youngster’s magnificent maiden victory in a major final was cruelly overshadowed by her opponent’s extraordinary row with chair umpire Carlos Ramos.

Backing up a breakthrough at a slam is always challenging. Prior to Thursday, Jennifer Capriati was the last woman to follow up her first title by making the final of the next major, winning both the Australian Open and French Open in 2001.

In any circumstances, therefore, Osaka’s achievement in reaching Saturday’s decider in Melbourne would be hugely impressive.

However, when you consider the drama that surrounded her triumph at Flushing Meadows – and who could forget Osaka being moved to tears in the post-match presentation as boos rained down from the stands of Arthur Ashe Stadium – this really is a run to be admired.

At the US Open, the draw was relatively kind to the eventual women’s champion. Osaka did not face a top-10 seed in the event, although her idol Williams clearly represented the most daunting of final opponents, while her last-eight tie was a cakewalk with Lesia Tsurenko hampered by a viral illness.

It has been a different story in Melbourne, where Osaka has recorded consecutive wins over Anastasija Sevastova, Elina Svitolina and Karolina Pliskova to earn a place in the final.

Victory on Saturday would send Osaka to the top of the world rankings (the same can also be said for Kvitova) and complete an incredible rise for a player thriving when it matters most.

“You guys know that I love grand slams,” she told reporters in a news conference following her defeat of Pliskova, which was secured with the aid of 56 winners.

“It definitely helped knowing that I won the US Open because I knew that I had the ability to win that many matches, play for that long.

“This is a place I think is worth all the training. When you’re little, you watch the grand slams, you watch all the players play the legendary matches here.

“For me, this is the most important tournament. There’s only four of them a year, so of course I want to do the best that I can here.”

Kvitova – who has won her last eight WTA finals and 26 out of 33 in her career – is likely to take some stopping, but Osaka could not have done any more up to now. Given all she has achieved over the last few months, you sense nothing is beyond her.

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