Japanese star Naomi Osaka stormed into the Australian Open final yesterday to set up a battle with Czech comeback queen Petra Kvitova for the Melbourne Park crown and world number one ranking.
The 21-year-old outgunned seventh seed Karolina Pliskova 6-2, 4-6, 6-4 to reach her second successive Grand Slam decider after a breakthrough triumph over Serena Williams at last year's US Open.
Osaka took the first set then held off a barnstorming comeback by Pliskova, who survived four set points to eliminate Williams on Wednesday but could not manage another miracle turnaround less than 24 hours later.
"I expected it, I expected a really hard battle," Osaka said of Pliskova's attempted return from a set and a break down to extend a 10-match winning streak.
Fourth seed Osaka admitted the never-say-die Czech rattled her but she drew on her experience winning a major at Flushing Meadows to settle her nerves.
"Somehow I made it. 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."
Osaka is seen as the leader of a new generation of stars but victory in her maiden Slam was overshadowed by Williams' raging rows with the umpire in the final at Flushing Meadows.
Victory on Saturday would make her the first woman since Williams in 2015 to win the US and Australian Opens back to back, burnishing her Grand Slam credentials and confirming her superstar status.
Meanwhile, Rafael Nadal said he has surprised himself with his outstanding level of tennis at this year's Australian Open after crushing Stefanos Tsitsipas in the semi-final yesterday.
The Spanish world number two handed the rising star a ruthless tennis lesson 6-2, 6-4, 6-0 in just 106 minutes.
Greek 14th seed Tsitsipas had enjoyed a fairytale run to his first Grand Slam last four, including a win over Roger Federer, but found Nadal in ruthless form in the Spaniard's first tournament since the US Open in September
The Spanish second seed has not dropped his serve for an astonishing 63 straight games and has not lost a set.
"I played well, of course. Have been playing well during the whole event. Every match more or less I think I did a lot of things well. Tonight was another one," he said after a breathtaking display of almost perfect tennis.
Tsitsipas, 20, had been hailed as a new young Greek god of tennis after beating Federer, but his ascent to the summit of his personal Olympus was comprehensively halted by the colossus called Nadal.*AFP
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