More than title at stake in battle of wills

Naomi Osaka (left) and Petra Kvitova. AFP

Melbourne, AFP: Czech Petra Kvitova is aiming to rock Japan's 'on fire' Naomi Osaka with an early onslaught in the Australian Open final, predicting the decider will be more slugfest than tactical masterclass.

The final on Saturday features two of the game's biggest hitters in a showdown for both the Australian crown and the world number one ranking.

Two-time Wimbledon champion Kvitova is on an 11-match winning streak and has been in imperious form at Melbourne Park, where she is yet to drop a set or even be stretched to a tie-break.

The 28-year-old is jubilant about making a Grand Slam final for the first time since a burglar sliced her racquet hand in a terrifying attack in late 2016 at her home in the Czech Republic.

"It's probably a bit more special because of everything I've been through," said Kvitova, who feared she would never rejoin the game's elite after suffering permanent nerve damage. But to make her comeback complete, the eighth seed needs to overcome US Open champion Osaka, one of the few players who can match Kvitova's powerful serve and blazing groundstrokes.

The Czech said she must start strongly against the 21-year-old, whose meek off-court demeanour belies a ferocious competitive instinct.

"Naomi is on fire. She's in very good form," Kvitova said. "She's an aggressive player, which I am, as well. So I think it will be about who's going to take the first point and push the other a little bit."

Osaka has battled through three-setters three times on her way to the final and said advancing at Grand Slam level was sometimes more about the ability to outlast an opponent than outthink them.

"I'm playing the best players in the world, and I've been playing three sets most of the time," she said. "It's more like a battle of wills at this point."

The pair have never met and Osaka said she would have to adjust her game against the lanky left-hander.

Kvitova's coach Jiri Vanek said both finalists played in a similar manner.

"(Osaka) goes for winners, Petra goes for winners. You don't have time to come up with great tactics" he said. "Both of them play so fast, I think it's going to be about who has the bigger heart."

The final of this year's season-opening Grand Slam will also determine the world number one ranking after Romania's Simona Halep was bundled out in the fourth round. 

Neither Osaka nor Kvitova has held the top spot before.

Osaka is currently sitting on a career-high ranking of four, while Kvitova even in her pomp only reached number two in 2011, the year she claimed her maiden major at Wimbledon.

The Czech, whose previous best at Melbourne Park was a final-four appearance in 2012, said claiming the top spot would be "a very nice bonus" but she was only thinking about lifting the trophy.

Osaka was more enthusiastic about the prospect of becoming world number one but also said the title was her priority.

"Of course that's a very big deal for me," she said. "It's one of the biggest goals that I had when I heard it was possible after playing the quarters.

"But my main goal is winning this tournament. The ranking comes after that. I tend to do better if I focus on one goal."

 

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More than title at stake in battle of wills

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