MELBOURNE (AFP) – An emotional Petra Kvitova swept into her first Grand Slam semi-final yesterday since a terrifying knife attack almost ended her career as the fairytale runs of Stefanos Tsitsipas and Danielle Collins continued at the Australian Open.
The Czech had not gone past the last eight at a major since a burglar slashed her left hand in December 2016, forcing her out of the game for six months and leaving her with lasting nerve damage in the fingers of her racquet hand.
But the eighth seed has bounced back and is on a sensational 10-match unbeaten streak after claiming the Sydney International warm-up title.
She proved too much for Ashleigh Barty, crushing the local hope 6-1, 6-4, and was in tears afterwards as she reflected on her long journey back to the top.
“Really, I didn’t imagine to be back on this great stadium and play with the best,” the two-time Wimbledon champion said. “It’s great.”
Kvitova will face unseeded American Collins in the semi-final tomorrow and she desperately wants to reach Saturday’s decider.
“I want it bad, that’s right,” Kvitova said.
Collins, the world number 35, had never won a Grand Slam match before entering this year’s tournament but she stunned three-time major champion and second seed Angelique Kerber in round four.
And the 25-year-old from Florida continued her Cinderella run by bouncing back spectacularly to down Russia’s Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova 2-6, 7-5, 6-1 in the quarter-finals.
Collins, who has spent long stretches of her career playing small tournaments to build up her ranking points, was in big trouble after losing the first set to the world number 44.
But she fearlessly battled back into the match to again stamp her mark on the tournament.
“This has all been a really incredible experience,” she said.
“This time last year I was playing a challenger tournament in Newport Beach. But, yeah, I think I’m really embracing it. It makes it a lot easier when you play in front of great fans and really good energy.”
Greek sensation Tsitsipas was also living the dream after powering into the last four with a measured 7-5, 4-6, 6-4, 7-6 (7/2) win over Spain’s Roberto Bautista Agut.
The 20-year-old, who ended Swiss great Roger Federer’s tournament, became the youngest man to reach the semis at Melbourne Park since Andy Roddick in 2003 and the first player from Greece – man or woman – to get so far at Grand Slam.
Living the dream
His exploits line him up with a semi-final against 17-time Grand Slam-winning Spaniard Rafael Nadal.
“I’m just living the dream, living what I’ve been working hard for,” said the 14th seed, who lives in Cyprus but trains at the academy of Serena Williams’ coach Patrick Mouratoglou in France.
“I feel a bit emotional but not too much – I know I really worked hard to get here, playing in semis of a Grand Slam.”
Bautista Agut, seeded 22, acknowledged Tsitsipas was playing well, but with Nadal and Novak Djokovic still in the tournament he doesn’t give him much chance of winning the title.
“Of course, he has a lot of time to improve, a lot of time to get enough experience to be in the finals of these tournaments,” he said.
“But here I think Rafa and Novak are my favourites.”
Nadal, meanwhile, looks to move another step closer to winning an event he has only claimed once before among his 17 major titles against Tiafoe, who announced himself on the world stage by beating fifth seed Kevin Anderson in the second round.
The Spaniard, who has been in ominous touch so far, is wary of the threat posed by the 21-year-old, who has nothing to lose.
“He has everything. He’s quick. He serves well. Very quick forehand,” said the second seed, who has not dropped a set so far.
“He’s a very dynamic player, aggressive one. Of course, he’s dangerous.”