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Semi-final Saturday: Osaka, Tsonga closing in

5 January 2019, by Dan Imhoff

A night after delivering the knockout-blow to send Australia’s last remaining hope packing, Jo-Wilfried Tsonga will stand on the cusp of his first final in 14 months.

That is quite the stretch between title matches for a player entrenched in the top 10 for the best part of the past decade.

But after a semi-final appearance at home in Montpellier last February, 2018 quickly turned into a nightmare season spent predominantly on the sidelines with injuries.

Tsonga returned to Brisbane at a lowly No.239 in the world.

A greater drought still is the 11 years that have passed since the former world No.5 last reached a singles final on Australian soil – to date his lone appearance in a Grand Slam final – at Melbourne Park in 2008.

Standing between the 33-year-old and a place in Sunday’s men’s singles decider will be 22-year-old Russian, Daniil Medvedev, a player Tsonga beat in Montpellier last February.

The Frenchman put in his best showing of the tournament to deny Alex De Minaur before a heaving Pat Rafter Arena crowd on Friday night, hours after Medvedev had knocked out his second former Brisbane champion in succession to reach the last four.

World No.16 Medvedev backed up his defeat of two-time winner Andy Murray with a three-set win over 2016 champion Milos Raonic.

“I know I can do better,” Tsonga said after beating De Minaur. “I will need some time to be even better on court. But anyway, it’s a very good start. I served really well and my forehand was nice so I hope I continue like this.”

Naomi Osaka and Kei Nishikori continue their bid to deliver dual Japanese champions on Semi-final Saturday.

Both seeded second and as the highest-ranked players remaining in their respective draws, Osaka and Nishikori will start strong favourites to advance to Sunday’s finals.

Osaka meets 2013 Brisbane semi-finalist Lesia Tsurenko in the first women’s singles semi-final on Pat Rafter Arena.

The 21-year-old dropped just two games against the unseeded Ukrainian in the quarter-finals en route to her maiden Grand Slam title at last year’s US Open.

She showed remarkable patience and belief in her shot-making, biding her time to see off No.8 seed Anastasija Sevastova in a tough quarter-final on Thursday, while Tsurenko charged back to beat world No.20 Anett Kontaveit under lights.

“I don’t really want to burden myself with thinking about carrying that on,” Osaka said of her form since breaking through at Flushing Meadows. “Of course, that would be ideal, but for me, I feel like I’ve always played well in Australia anyways.

“So I’m just trying to take that fun feeling. And I haven’t been to Brisbane since I lost like three years ago, so I’m just trying to take it as a new experience.”

Nishikori landed his fifth win in six meetings over 2017 Brisbane champion, Grigor Dimitrov, to book a semi-final date with world No.40 Jeremy Chardy.

Frenchman Chardy had ended Nick Kyrgios’s title defence in the second round before backing it up with a nail-biting win over unheralded Japanese qualifier Yasutaka Uchiyama.

Nishikori leads the pair’s head-to-head record 6-2, with both Chardy’s victories coming on clay.

Croatian Donna Vekic is off to her best season’s start, saving match points to deny Dutch sixth seed Kiki Bertens before barely putting a foot wrong in a ruthless display of shot-making to see off last year’s finalist, Aliaksandra Sasnovich.

“I think today was probably one of the most perfect matches I’ve ever played in my career,” Vekic said of the drubbing.

On Saturday night, she will look to carry that momentum when she meets 2017 champion Karolina Pliskova for a place in her biggest career final.

Pliskova steadied to pull clear of Australia’s Ajla Tomljanovic in three sets on Friday night to reach her third straight Brisbane semi-final.

The women’s doubles final will open Saturday’s day session on Pat Rafter Arena with third seeds Nicole Melichar, of the US, and Czech Kveta Peschke taking on fourth-seeded Taiwanese sisters Hao-Ching Chan and Latisha Chan.

The Brisbane International Festival of Wheelchair Tennis also continues on Saturday with Australia’s multiple Paralympic gold medallists Dylan Alcott and Heath Davidson headlining the day’s play.