Defending champion Karolina Pliskova faces her first top-10 opponent of 2020 in the Brisbane International semifinals, reigning Australian Open champion Naomi Osaka.
Karolina Pliskova vs Naomi Osaka is live from Brisbane on Saturday 11 January at 4pm loca/6am GMT
A blockbuster Brisbane International semifinal lineup sees the clash between Petra Kvitova and Madison Keys followed by a duel between two of the world’s top five as world no. 2 Pliskova, who won the tournament 12 months ago, takes on world no. 4 Osaka, the reigning champion at the biggest event of the Australian summer.
Twelve months ago, Pliskova stormed to the Brisbane International title without facing a seeded player. It was the first of four titles she would win throughout 2019, across all different surfaces and all coming at Premier level or higher, as the Czech compiled a 52-17 win-loss record and made the semifinals of the Australian Open to boot, losing to none other than Osaka in three sets.
Pliskova hasn’t faced a seeded player at the Brisbane International so far either, but that doesn’t mean opposition hasn’t been tough. After a first-round bye (only given to the top two seeds), she dropped the second set to a determined Ajla Tomljanovic and had to win in three, and then found herself locked in extremely tight battle with Alison Riske in the quarterfinals. Pliskova had won all six previous matches against Riske, but the two they played in 2019 – a season which saw Riske playing the finest tennis of her life, making the final of the Premier-5 Wuhan Open and the Wimbledon quarterfinals – were both very close, lasting just over two hours.
By those standards, Friday’s Brisbane quarterfinal match was positively one-sided, with Pliskova recording a 7-6(6), 6-3 victory in one hour and 53 minutes – but not before Riske had erased a 2-5 lead in the first set and taken it all the way to a tie-break, only to concede it on a disastrous double fault. Pliskova broke early in the second and rode that advantage all the way to the finish line.
In her on-court interview, Pliskova said:
‘It’s always close. I don’t know what it is about us, but we always play good tennis together. We have a very similar game, there’s always tiebreaks and I was lucky this time because she had a couple of set points. But I’m happy I got through in two sets as it was a hard match today.
‘I don’t think I played amazing. I think I played solid, for sure, it was not the worst match in my life but for sure not the best one.’
This is the fourth straight year that Pliskova has made the Brisbane International semifinals, with the big-serving Czech going on to win the title in 2017 and 2019.
Naomi Osaka will be Pliskova’s first seeded opponent at the Brisbane International since Pliskova lost to third seed Elina Svitolina in the 2018 semifinals, and the Japanese-Haitian player will be hoping to emulate Svitolina’s win over the defending champion.
Osaka is currently on a 14-match winning streak, the longest in her career, and has not lost a match since her US Open title defense was ended by Belinda Bencic in the fourth round, a defeat which Osaka bounced back from by winning back-to-back titles in Osaka and Beijing before withdrawing from the WTA Finals Shenzhen after winning her opening round-robin match.
Osaka is also on a streak of three-set matches, with her last five going the distance: The China Open final against Ashleigh Barty and the Shenzen round-robin clash with Petra Kvitova in 2019, and all three of her Brisbane International clashes so far in 2020.
To be fair, Osaka has had a tough draw, starting with the athletic Maria Sakkari in the first round and continuing to world no. 14 Sofia Kenin in the second and world no. 9 Kiki Bertens in a quarterfinal which saw the two top-10 players split sets before Osaka pulled away in the decider.
In a clash between the two well-matched players, both gifted with big serves, plenty of athletic ability, and heavy groundstrokes off both wings, Osaka did not come close to matching the career record of 18 aces she landed in the quarterfinals against Kenin, but I thought it was an impressive, focused and powerful performance.
‘I think I started off really well today as opposed to yesterday. I feel like we were both feeling each other out, though, and [Bertens] sort of adjusted better to me in the second set. In the third set, I just decided to stop complaining and try to fight for every point.’
Osaka is looking to win the sixth title of her career and has a 5-2 record in finals, winning the last three she played; the last defeat in a final she suffered came at the hands of Pliskova herself, who beat Osaka at the Toray Pan Pacific Open in 2018, shortly after Osaka won the US Open.
Pliskova is 15-12 in finals, and is also on a three-match winning streak in title matches, with her last defeat coming to Barty at the Miami Open last March.
The head-to-head is locked at 2-2, although Pliskova’s first win over Osaka did come via retirement in Toronto in 2017 when Osaka pulled the plug due to injury shortly after levelling the match at a set apiece. They split straight-sets victories in 2018 and Osaka beat Pliskova 6-2, 4-6, 6-4 in the Australian Open semifinals almost a year ago, going on to win the title.
With both women possessing big serves and plenty of baseline power, it looks like quite an even match, but Osaka is actually the better mover when she is feeling fit and confident – and the Japanese-Haitian player does look both fit and confident in Brisbane so far. Her better defensive capabilities and greater adaptability through the course of the match should, if both women perform at a similar level than they have throughout the tournament so far, see her end Pliskova’s title defense, extend her own winning streak and reach her first final of 2020 in Brisbane.