Australian Open 2019: No1 on line for Osaka, Kvitova and Pliskova – but unseeded Collins plays key role
Eleven women had a chance to leave Melbourne with the No1 ranking, but only three remain in contention
· If Naomi Osaka and Petra Kvitova advance to final, winner will be No1
· If Kvitova and Karolina Pliskova advance to final, winner will be No1
· If Osaka and Danielle Collins contest final, Osaka is assured of No1, win or lose
· If Pliskova and Collins advance to final, Pliskova must win to become No1
· If Collins beats Pliskova in the final, Osaka is No1, Kvitova No2, Pliskova No3
Eleven women had a chance to leave Melbourne with the No1 ranking, but only three remain in contention—and they do not include the current No1, Simona Halep.
World No4 and reigning US Open champion, Naomi Osaka, could not only become the youngest WTA No1 since Caroline Wozniacki, but also, at the age of just 21, the first ever Japanese player, man or woman, to top the rankings.
The young star was a convincing winner over No6 Elina Svitolina, winner of the WTA Finals in Singapore three months ago, 6-4, 6-1, as Svitolina struggled with neck and shoulder problems. And that took Osaka past Kvitova on points, which means, if Osaka makes the final and Kvitova does not, the Japanese woman will be assured of No1.
Kvitova, then, must go one round better than Osaka for a chance of No1, so at least reach the final. But if Pliskova reaches the final, Kvitova also needs to win to seal No1. However, on the basis of her form thus far in Australia, Kvitova will not be lacking in confidence.
The two-time Wimbledon champion, who was last at a career high No2 in 2015 before slipping to 29 in the year that followed the stabbing attack at the end of 2016, has yet to drop more than five games in any match. However, she will have faced only one seed should she make it to the final match, and that was No15 seed Ashleigh Barty in the quarter-finals.
She next takes on unseeded Danielle Collins, who has accounted for three seeds, including No2 Angelique Kerber, and struck back from a set down to beat Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova in three sets to make this semi-final. And while she is way off the pace for the No1 ranking next week, her rise through the tournament has been as impressive as her three fellow competitors.
Already, the American is looking at a surge of 12 places to 23, and if she beats Kvitova, she will break into the top 20. A year ago, she was at 162 in the world, but should she make a fairytale run to the title, she will be inside the top 15. Not bad for a woman who had not only failed to win a match at the Australian Open before this year, but at any Major in her career.
Almost as impressive in the quarter-finals was the performance of No7 seed Pliskova, who found herself in the toughest quarter of the draw. She knew that, to reach the semis, she would almost certainly have to beat current No1 Simona Halep or seven-time champion Serena Williams, but before crossing that bridge, she disposed of a fellow former No1 Garbine Muguruza for the loss of just four games.
In such company, few gave the 2016 US Open runner-up much hope of going deeper than her two quarter-final finishes in Australia in the last two years, but her title run in Brisbane suggested otherwise. Sure enough, she took on Williams with her big-hitting tennis, broke early, and took the first set, 6-4.
Williams, playing in Melbourne for the first time since winning the title while two months’ pregnant in 2017, hit back from a break down in the second set to level things, 6-4, and looked a cert to cruise home when she served for the match at 5-1. But on match-point, she was called for a foot-fault, turned her ankle, double faulted, and did not win another point on serve, passing up three more match-points as Pliskova surged to six straight games, 7-5.
Will the scheduling play a part?
The tall Czech afterwards summed up her win over Williams thus:
“I was almost in the locker room, but now stand here as the winner.” But she also stood with significant strapping to her left knee. Will that become an issue against the fearless Osaka?
Time will tell, but also of note is that her match was played second of the two quarter-finals, and lasted twice as long as Osaka’s. And these two women enjoy no day’s rest before the semi-finals—unlike the women in the bottom half of the draw.
In short, then, the final on Saturday could determine both the title and the No1 ranking—just as it did a year ago between Halep and Wozniacki.
Order of play, Thursday 24 January
Not before 2pm
Petra Kvitova  vs Danielle Collins 
Not before 3.30pm
Karolina Pliskova  vs Naomi Osaka 
Saturday 26 January [NB Australia Day]
7.30pm Women’s final