Osaka now feeling she belongs at the top

Naomi Osaka says she's focused on winning her second grand slam title, not her rise to world No.1.
Naomi Osaka says she's focused on winning her second grand slam title, not her rise to world No.1.

Qualifying for her first grand slam final left Naomi Osaka feeling euphoric, but the second time around has brought only relief.

Osaka backed up her 2018 US Open success on Thursday by reaching the final of the Australian Open, defeating Karolina Pliskova 6-2 4-6 6-4.

She'll face another Czech, Petra Kvitova, for the chance to become the first woman since her idol, Serena Williams, to win back-to-back slams.

Whatever the outcome, much of Osaka's work is done.

The 21-year-old told the WTA last year after the US Open final she still felt she had to prove herself and that it wasn't a flash in the pan.

A run to another final has done just that.

"I can't believe about the same time, it's sort of the reality I am in right now, so I can only keep going forward from here," she said.

"It's a little bit unreal.

"At the same time, I realise the work that I put in during the off-season. Every match that I played, I tried my best. It just felt like it was a continuous effort."

Her run to Saturday's final, as well as the early demise of Simona Halep, Angelique Kerber and Caroline Wozniacki, also makes the decider a battle to be world No.1.

It's an amazing rise given she arrived at last year's Australian Open as the world No.72.

"Of course, that's a very big deal for me," she said.

"It's one of the biggest goals that I had I guess, playing the quarters, then hearing that it's possible.

"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."

Osaka's record since the start of the US Open is 22-6, including her three losses at the tour finals when she was playing below 100 per cent.

Australian Associated Press