Osaka edges Pliskova to set up Open final with Kvitova
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 Serena Williams at last year’s U.S. Open.
Osaka started strongly to take the first set as the match began with the roof of Rod Laver Arena closed amid sweltering temperatures exceeding 36 degrees Celsius.
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.
The 28-year-old feared she may never play tennis again after the 33-year-old man broke into her apartment in the eastern Czech town of Prostejov just weeks before the opening Grand Slam of 2017.
She suffered career-threatening injuries to her left hand as she fought him off.
Despite grim forecasts by doctors, who even warned she might lose her fingers, the 2011 and 2014 Wimbledon champion never gave up believing and miraculously returned to the sport in time for the 2017 French Open.
But she was still struggling mentally, admitting it took time to regain her confidence.
“It wasn’t only physically but mentally very tough,” she said. “It took me really a while to believe (in the) people around me again, and especially the men, for sure.
“So I wasn’t pretty confident to be alone somewhere.”
Getting her hand back into shape was also a grueling challenge, involving extensive surgery and months of treatment. She still has nerve damage in her fingers and struggles to properly clench her fist.
“Yeah, it was a lot of work with the hand. It was lot of recovery, treatment,” she said.
“I think that kind of the sports life helped me a lot with that. I just set up the mind that I really wanted to come back, and I just did everything.
“So I was practising with the hand, like, two, three times per day, which I don’t know if a normal person will do that, but of course I needed the hand to be back on court.
“Not only on the court but to be able to kind of live a normal life. Those three months were very, very tough.”