Five things we learned on Day 11
Five things we learned on Day 11
1. Aussies could clean up in doubles
Quarterfinalist Ash Barty was the last Aussie standing in singles – eliminated by a brilliant Petra Kvitova. But Aussies are in the hunt for doubles silverware; locals are into all three finals.
Melburnian John Peers and Finnish partner Henri Kontinen, champions here in 2017, beat Leonardo Mayer and Joao Sousa first up at Rod Laver Arena on Thursday to enter their second Melbourne Park final. They earlier took out No.3 seeds Jamie Murray and Bruno Soares.
Sam Stosur is into her first Australian final in 13 years. Bouncing back from another first-round singles loss, the 34-year-old is eyeing a doubles title to go with her mixed trophy in 2005 (won with Scott Draper).
Stosur and Zhang Shuai take on defending champions Kristina Mladenovic and Timea Babos in Friday’s final. The unseeded pair took out top-seeded Czechs Barbora Krejcikova and Katerina Siniakova in two tiebreaks in the quarters. Thursday’s TV rating figures revealed that almost a million viewers enjoyed the Aussie-Chinese duo’s 7-5 4-6 7-6 comeback win from 1-5 down over Barbora Strycova and Marketa Vondrousova on Wednesday night, following the abbreviated Novak Djokovic v Kei Nishikori quarterfinal.
Wildcards Astra Sharma and John-Patrick Smith bookended the Thursday program at Rod Laver Arena, taking out No.2 seeds Nicole Melichar and Soares 6-4 7-6(5) for a place in the mixed doubles decider.
2. We’ll have a new women’s No.1 come Sunday
Kvitova and Naomi Osaka will play on Saturday not just for their first Australian Open title, but also the No.1 ranking.
With her 13th straight Grand Slam win, an engrossing 6-2 4-6 6-4 semifinal over Karolina Pliskova, US Open champion Osaka is the live No.1. The 21-year-old would be the first Japanese atop the rankings, and the youngest since 20-year-old Caroline Wozniacki.
“For me, my main goal is winning this tournament. I think the ranking comes after that,” said the typically cool and composed Osaka. “I tend to do better if I focus on one goal.”
Three of Thursday's semifinals had a shot at No.1 (Grand Slam semi debutante Danielle Collins the outsider). Kvitova needs to finish a round ahead of Osaka, or now beat her for the title.
The 28-year-old Czech had an agonising near-miss at No.1 in her last appearance in the semifinals seven years ago. As reigning Wimbledon champion, Kvitova needed to beat Maria Sharapova to make the summit. She lost a taut three-setter and fell from the chase. “Thank you for reminding me,” she kidded after an earlier win. “This loss was one of the most painful in my career, which is not really something which I want to repeat, for sure.”
Kvitova could get a fairytale ending Saturday, two years since a violent home invasion left her with knife wounds to her playing hand and clouded her future in the game. The brilliant shotmaker has won seven tournaments on her return, and now is into her first major final since Wimbledon 2014.
“Are you gonna make me cry again?’ she chided on-court interviewer Jim Courier. “It means everything, I think. Whatever happens [in the final] I’m very happy. I love playing finals.”
Neither Kvitova or Osaka have ever been to an Australian Open final, or ranked No.1 before, or lost a Grand Slam decider (Kvitova is 2-0 in Wimbledon finals).
Eight different women have won the last eight majors – unprecedented in the Open era. Osaka can break the trend – a curious case of the game’s newest major winner being the one to impose order.
The last back-to-back Grand Slam title-winner was Serena Williams in 2015; the last maiden major winner to win successive Slams was Jennifer Capriati in 2001.
3. Kvitova blooms indoors
Kvitova has powered into the women’s final without dropping a set. The closest she came was Thursday’s semifinal, taken to a first-set tiebreak by Collins.
The 7-6(2) 6-0 scoreline said it all for this match of two halves.
Already a scorching 37 degrees and at 4.5 on the new heat scale when the players took the court at 2pm, they were knotted at 4-all when the roof was closed.
Kvitova, trimmer and fitter than ever in her career but no fan of the heat, came to life like a glossy indoor plant. She swept the tiebreak 7-2, and cracked 10 winners to go 4-0 up in the second.
Match analytics showed the Czech had roamed forward, ripping her shots even earlier, without the variables of sun and wind to contend with. She finished with 30 winners to the American’s nine. The first set went over an over; the second was a 32-minute romp.
“I was actually happier than the fans that the roof was closed,” confessed Kvitova.
Collins, who grew up in steamy Florida, was not so thrilled. This was only her second time at Rod Laver Arena, and her first experience under the roof. “Honestly, I like playing in the heat. Don’t get me wrong, it certainly has its challenges. [But] I grew up in Florida and am used to it being really hot all the time. Indoor tennis is a different game. Certainly had its effect.
“But it is what it is, and that’s the decision they made, and she played really great tennis,” world No.35 Collins sportingly acknowledged. “I think that should probably be the focus of the conversation.”
4. The roof comes into play
We’ve had a few toasty days at AO2019, but Thursday was the first time the roof was utilised to beat the heat, as the temperature in Melbourne topped 40 degrees during the women’s semifinals.
The refurbished Rod Laver Arena has a much quicker system for closing the roof, now taking five minutes rather than about 30 (from full opening). It means players now stay on court, with less of a disruptive break in play (and no chance for off-court coaching).
The three singles semis in Rod Laver Arena were played in three different conditions: Kvitova-Collins was played outdoors for the first eight games; Osaka-Pliskova entirely indoors and Rafael Nadal v Stefanos Tsitsipas entirely outdoors.
The fast-closing roof is likely to get closed quickly on Friday too, with Melbourne’s mercury set to soar to 44 degrees before a welcome afternoon cool change.
5. Ruthless Rafa on the brink of more history
A decade on from his sole Australian title, Nadal is in position to beat rivals Roger Federer and Djokovic to a special place in history.
The 17-time major winner could join Rod Laver as the only double career Grand Slammers in men’s tennis.
A ruthless Nadal blasted into his fifth Australian Open final on Thursday night, spanking Tsitsipas 6-2 6-4 6-0. He gave up a single break point chance – as he served for the win.
“Honestly, I have no idea what I can take from that match,” a shell-shocked Tsitsipas said. “Very, very weird feeling. It felt like a different dimension of tennis completely.”
The young Greek ignited the tournament with his defeat of defending champion Federer. But he found the unyielding Nadal the ultimate test. Tsitsipas is yet to take a set from the Spaniard in three meetings – losing finals to Nadal at Barcelona and Toronto, on his 20th birthday. “He has a talent to make you play bad,” he said.
The youngster had spent five hours longer on court than Nadal, and the toll taken showed in his ragged movement. “I felt like a two-metre-10 guy who can’t move on the court. I felt like my reaction time was slow.”
Rafa had banished a third young star – following his free lessons to Alex de Minaur and first-time quarterfinalist Frances Tiafoe. But he denied his imperious form was sending a message to the next generation. “They don’t need any message. They are good and improving every month.”
Of Tsitsipas he said: “He has everything to become a multiple Grand Slam champion.” But not just yet.
Melbourne Park is Nadal’s least-successful major. He’s 1-3 in finals here, losing a six-hour epic to Djokovic in 2012, playing hurt against Stan Wawrinka in 2014 and pipped in a five-setter by Federer in the Disneyesque final of 2017. But never before has Nadal barrelled into the final without losing a set.