Tennis

Kvitova battles her demons to reach the final

Petra Kvitova was left such a nervous wreck after being attacked by a home intruder in 2016 that she struggled to be in a room by herself, let alone have thoughts of returning to the tour as a Grand Slam contender.

At the Australian Open yesterday, the 28-year-old Czech came within one match of crowning one of the bravest comebacks in tennis after beating Danielle Collins 7-6 (7-2), 6-0 to reach her first final at Melbourne Park.

Kvitova missed the 2017 tournament while recovering from surgery on the stab wound to her racket hand she suffered during the attack - the same hand that struck 30 winners to fell Collins in stifling heat at Rod Laver Arena.

It was much more than a case of overcoming a physical injury, however, with the attack having exacted a heavy mental toll on the two-time Wimbledon champion.

"It wasn't really a nice time to be dealing with everything," the tall left-hander said at Melbourne Park.

"It took me really a while to believe the people around me again and especially men, for sure. So I wasn't pretty confident to be alone somewhere...

"Yeah, it's been a long journey."

She will head into the final on an 11-match winning streak, looking to become the first Czech to win the tournament since Hana Mandlikova in 1987.

Her opponent is US Open champion Naomi Osaka, who staved off a fightback from Karolina Pliskova to reach her maiden Australian Open final with a 6-2, 4-6, 6-4 win.

Fourth seed Osaka admitted the never-say-die Czech rattled her but she drew on her experience winning a Major at Flushing Meadows to settle her nerves.

"Somehow I made it. I just told myself to regroup in the third set and try as hard as I could no matter what, and I managed to win."

Osaka is seen as the leader of a new generation of stars but victory in her maiden Slam was overshadowed by Williams' raging row with the umpire in the final at Flushing Meadows.

Victory tomorrow would make her the first woman since Williams in 2015 to win the US and Australian Opens back to back. - REUTERS, AFP

Tennis