Japanese star Naomi Osaka stormed into the Australian Open final on Thursday to set up a battle with Czech comeback queen Petra Kvitova for the Melbourne Park crown and world No 1 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.
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.
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.
The roof of Rod Laver Arena was closed amid sweltering temperatures approaching 40 degrees Celsius (104 Farenheit) and Pliskova believed it gave Osaka an edge.
Standing between Osaka and the Australian title is another Czech opponent Kvitova who is on an even better winning run than Pliskova, with 11 straight matches.
The winner of the final will become the new world No 1, replacing Romania’s Simona Halep.
Two-time Wimbledon champion Kvitova, 28, also has a wealth of experience to draw on and it proved telling as she raced past unheralded American Danielle Collins in the other semifinal.
Seeded eight, Kvitova defeated Collins, who had a dream tournament debut to reach the final four, 7-6 (7/2), 6-0 after the closure of the centre court roof gave her a boost.