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Work ethic, talent and a fierce competitive spirit must all come together to lift a Grand Slam trophy. At Australian Open 2019, Naomi Osaka and Petra Kvitova have showcased those qualities at their best.

Already those traits have delivered each woman with major silverware – Osaka only recently as the 2018 US Open champion; Kvitova winning Wimbledon in 2011 and 2014.

But as they prepare to meet in Saturday’s final, Osaka and Kvitova appreciate that competing for the AO2019 title is in a class of its own.

Victory will not only ensure a deliver a first Australian Open title, but a rise to world no.1.

Osaka potentially enters rarified territory as one of the few women to immediately back up her major maiden with another Slam; Jennifer Capriati last achieved that feat in 2001.

Clearly, the No.4 seed understands the high stakes.

“When you’re little, you watch the Grand Slams, you watch all the players play, like, the legendary matches here,” said Osaka. “For me, this is the most important tournament. There’s only four of them a year, so of course I want to do the best that I can.”

Kvitova, too, understands the special significance of lifting the Daphne Akhurst Memorial Cup.

An Australian Open title would not only mark her first major since 2014 but would more importantly become the first Grand Slam title of the Czech’s self-described “second career”.

In December 2016, Kvitova suffered a career-threatening hand injury in an attack that occurred in her Czech Republic home.

“It’s been a while. It’s been five years,” the 28-year-old smiled. “You know, that’s why I worked pretty hard to be back there. It just tastes very great. I’m really happy to be back there again.”

Such positivity, for each finalist, is backed by remarkable steel.

Already feted throughout the world – and especially in Japan – Osaka has deftly managed any distractions of her fast-growing fame.

At age 21, she’s managed difficult opponents in Melbourne too. A second Grand Slam final has required three-set victories over Hsieh Su-Wei, Anastasija Sevastova and Karolina Pliskova – the latter in a fiercely-contested semifinal that some say is among the best matches of this event.

“For me, at this tournament, I wasn’t really focused on winning, winning.” Osaka related. “I just wanted to make sure I tried 100 per cent on every point. I’m still here, so thankfully that’s working out.”

Kvitova is arguably even more thankful, given the question of whether she’d even return to the game.

“To be honest, I’m still not really believing that I’m in the final. It’s kind of weird, to be honest, as well, that I didn’t know even if I (was) going to play tennis again,” she said of the period following the serious knife injury that required hours of intricate surgery on her left playing hand. “It wasn’t only physically but mentally (it) was very tough, as well.”

But it was the sport itself that aided her recovery, Kvitova explaining how the desire to compete again was a motivator throughout a long and difficult rehabilitation.

“I just set up the mind that I really wanted to come back, and I just did everything,” she said.

While the comeback was at times difficult for Kvitova – who won a tour-leading five titles in 2018 but didn’t progress beyond the third round of a Slam – that determination never waned.

The Czech has showcased it brilliantly in Melbourne, arriving at a third Grand Slam without the loss of a set. Belinda Bencic, Ashleigh Barty and Danielle Collins are among those who’ve experienced the sting of her power.

Intriguingly, the women’s final between Osaka and Kvitova will mark the first time they’ve played.

“I think to have the opportunity to play her for the first time in a final of a Grand Slam is something very amazing,” said Osaka. “I’ve watched her play the Wimbledon finals. I know what a great player she is. It’s definitely going to be very tough for me.”

And that’s especially true given the Czech’s 26-7 winning record in finals. Even more significantly, Kvitova is the winner of the last eight finals she’s played.

“I think it feels better to know this, that I do have better percentage of winning than losing in the final,” said the world No.6, who is on an 11-match winning streak in Australia after lifting the Sydney trophy a fortnight ago. “Every final is different, because every time is just different opponent or different place or time but I really love playing finals.

“I love playing on the big stages and this will be one of them.”

Boasting a 13-match winning streak at majors, Osaka has powerful momentum, too. Already the first Japanese player to win a Grand Slam singles title with her US Open breakthrough, she enters the AO2019 final with the chance to become the first from her nation to rank world No.1.

“Of course, that’s a very big deal for me. It’s one of the biggest goals that I had I guess playing the quarters, then hearing that it’s possible,” Osaka said, before underlining the more immediate priority at Rod Laver Arena. “For me, my main goal is winning this tournament. I think the ranking comes after that. I tend to do better if I focus on one goal.”

Kvitova, too, is putting any thoughts of an ascent on hold.

“I’m not really looking to the ranking,” she said earlier in the week. “I’m in the tournament, in a Slam …That’s what matters right now.”

Clarity of focus is clearly another prerequisite for a Grand Slam champion. Will it be Osaka or Kvitova who uses it best to claim the AO2019 trophy and rise to world No.1?

Source: Vivienne Christie

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