Czech tennis star Petra Kvitova briefly took over the top spot on the women's rankings with her win yesterday, while Naomi Osaka and Karolína Plíšková have both kept alive their hopes of finishing the Australian Open in the number one position.

By Daniel Herborn

Posted on January 23, 2019

Romanian Simona Halep had occupied the top spot for 48 weeks before being displaced after her fourth round loss to Serena Williams in the tournament.

Osaka made it into the final four after defeating Ukranian Elina Svitolina. She hit 31 winners on her way to a 6-4,6-1 victory.

Osaka ousts Svitolina

Svitolina, the tournament’s sixth seed, has never gone past the quarterfinals of a grand slam but was hampered by injury in this match. “She’s really good but unfortunately she was injured,” said Osaka. “But playing against her injured was really tough. For me, today, I had one goal – it was to try as hard as I can and not get angry.

“I didn’t do that well in the past two rounds, but I played well today.”

Meanwhile, another contender for the number one spot, Czech Republic’s Karolína Plíšková pulled off one of the most remarkable comebacks in recent memory to outlast Serena Williams and advance to the semifinals.

Plíšková had control of the match in the first set before Williams wrestled it back in the second stanza and then rolled to a 5-1 lead in the deciding set before a furious Plíšková comeback provided a final act twist.

Plíšková’s epic comeback sets up a clash with Osaka

A win for Williams would have set up a semi-final clash with Osaka, who defeated her in a surprising and controversial US Open final. Now, Plíšková will get that chance, with the winner playing the victor of the Danielle Collins v Petra Kvitova semifinal.

After winning the US Open as the 20th seed, Osaka is now vying to become just the tenth player in WTA history to win both the New York and Melbourne grand slams back to back.

Osaka’s win today was doubly important in the context of a logjam at the upper reaches of the women’s game which meant that 11 players had a shot at leaving the Australian Open ranked number one. By week two of the Open, seven players, including Osaka, Plíšková, Svitolina, Petra Kvitova, Sloane Stephens and Angelique Kerber all still had a live chance of ending the tournament atop the rankings.

The WTA has become very open in recent years, a contrast to the men’s tour, where 50 of the past 55 grand slams have been won by Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal, Novak Djokovic and Andy Murray.

Despite not being in contention for the top spot and losing today in stunning fashion, Serena Williams remains by far and away the best-credentialled player on tour with 23 grand slams to her name.

After returning last year from a 14-month break for maternity leave, she appeared in less tournaments than before but still made it to two grand slam finals including the sensational loss in the US Open final to Osaka.

Remarkably, Osaka was just one year old when Williams won her first grand slam.

Header image credit: Peter Menzel