Osaka's big chance to seize the spotlight January 25, 2019 by Darren Walton

MELBOURNE, AAP - Cruelly cast into the giant shadow of Serena Williams last time around, it's only fitting that Naomi Osaka has another chance to seize the spotlight in Saturday night's high-stakes Australian Open final.

Osaka, the Japanese juggernaut threatening to overhaul women's tennis, and Czech comeback queen Petra Kvitova will not only duel for the Daphne Akhurst Memorial Cup but also the prized world No.1 ranking in the Melbourne Park blockbuster.

For Osaka, it's also an opportunity to take centre stage and assume her seemingly inevitable position as the new benchmark in the women's game after Williams robbed the 21-year-old of her shining moment with her extraordinary US Open final meltdown in September.

Unfairly reduced to tears during the trophy presentation in New York, Osaka still prefers to recall only the positives she extracted from what should have been the most memorable experience of her life.

"It definitely helped knowing that I won the US Open because I knew that I had the ability to win that many matches, play for that long," Osaka said when asked how her Flushing Meadows breakthrough helped her during her charge to the Melbourne title decider.

"I was thinking about that while I was playing this tournament but, at the same time, I didn't want to dwell too much on it."

Osaka acknowledges how much of a "very big deal" it would be to rise to No.1, especially after the Japanese history maker was ranked 72nd in the world this time last year.

But that's not what's driving her Open title push.

"I love grand slams," Osaka said.

"This is a place where I think is worth all the training. When you're little, you watch the grand slams, you watch all the players play the legendary matches here.

"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 here."

Bidding to become the first woman since Williams in 2015 to land successive slams, Osaka accepts the enormity of the task in front of her.

Kvitova is in inspired form, riding her own 11-match winning streak, and hoping to cap a remarkable comeback to professional tennis just 25 months after doctors feared she'd never play again.

But with the 28-year-old's hand and mind healed after the trauma of being stabbed in her own home by a knife-wielding stranger before Christmas in 2016, Kvitova is intent on making the most of her "second career" and emulating the courageous comeback of fellow stabbing victim Monica Seles by winning the Australian Open.

"I didn't even know if I was going to play tennis again," Kvitova said.

"To be honest, I'm still not really believing I'm in the final."

A two-time Wimbledon champion, in 2011 and 2014, Kvitova also had the chance to secure the world No.1 ranking in 2012, only to lose her Australian Open semi-final to Maria Sharapova.

Osaka knows the left-hander will be hungry not to let her latest opportunity slip through her mended fingers again.

"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," Osaka said.

"To have the opportunity to play her for the first time in a final of a grand slam is something very amazing."


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