There were 13 current or former Grand Slam event champions in the women’s draw at the start of Australian Open 2019. By comparison, there were only six in the men’s draw.
A year ago, neither of the finalists – Caroline Wozniacki and Simona Halep – had won a major but 12 months later both have gained that exalted champion’s status.
Also a year ago, this year’s finalist, Naomi Osaka, was ranked No.72 at Melbourne Park and lost 6-3 6-2 in the fourth round to No.1-ranked Halep. The other 2019 finalist, Petra Kvitova, then No. 28, was beaten 6-3 4-6 10-8 in the opening round by No.98 Andrea Petkovic.
A lot has happened in the year since – Osaka won Indian Wells and the US Open and Kvitova captured a tour-leading five titles in 2018. Now, two players committed to uncompromising big-hitting, offensive tennis are not only playing for the Daphne Ackhurst trophy on Saturday night at Rod Laver Arena, the winner also achieves a career first and becomes the WTA’s new No.1.
No.4 Naomi Osaka vs. No.6 Petra Kvitova
Osaka and Kvitova will play for the Australian Open title in what is the first-ever meeting between the two.
It would seem on the face of it that Kvitova, a lefthander, would benefit more from a first encounter and Osaka said Thursday that she hasn’t played or practised with a lefty in a while. But her coach, Sascha Bajin, insists that she adapts quickly and says facing a lefthander will not be an issue.
He believes Osaka’s movement is a plus, adding; “one of the biggest assets in her game, I believe if a power hitter like her can move like someone who is defensive, the opponent’s going to have to play really well.”
Kvitova arrives in the final after six straight-sets wins while three of Osaka’s victories went three sets. In the third round she was precariously close to elimination – trailing Su-Wei Hsieh 5-7 2-4 love-40. So the 21-year-old Japanese has displayed commendable composure on court through some testing situations.