Close enough to the ultimate prize you can dare to dream. Far enough away that it’s dangerous to do so. Welcome to the AO 2019 semifinals.
Two final fours befitting a tournament that can best be described as “going largely to plan – except when it didn’t” the four matches taking place over the next two days really do have something for everyone. From superstars to shooting stars, comebacks and don’t-call-it-a-comeback comebacks, youngsters poised to take over the game, and a guy with a YouTube channel – what else could you ask for?
In any case, the time has come to decide some AO 2019 finalists. Who will fly? Who will flop? Read on for a look at all four semi-finals:
All matches on Rod Laver Arena (2:00pm start)
Petra Kvitova (CZE)  v Danielle Collins (USA)
From never winning a match at a major to making the AO semis, it’s been a whirlwind two weeks for Danielle Collins, but now she comes up against a player who has been a one-woman whirlwind in Petra Kvitova. Yet to drop a set this tournament, Kvitova has been nothing short of dominant so far, and while Collins has certainly impressed in her own right, she hasn’t played anyone with quite the firepower of the big-hitting Czech. That said, we’ve already seen Collins thrive with the underdog tag placed on her, and if she comes out free-swinging and connects with a couple of her massive backhands, maybe Kvitova starts to feel the pressure. If not, Kvitova’s combination of lethal serving and powerful shotmaking should see her through, but the upset can’t be taken completely off the table.
Not before 3:30pm
Karolina Pliskova (CZE)  v Naomi Osaka (JPN) 
The two most recent party poopers of the Serena Williams comeback tour, Karolina Pliskova and Naomi Osaka now get the chance to rain on each other’s parade. An exceptionally even matchup on paper, both women have one win each in completed matches (Pliskova also “won” their first meeting, in which Osaka retired at a set apiece), and are equally capable of breaking the other down, even if they go about it in slightly different ways. Both strong servers, how they build pressure with that shot is sure to play a large part, but just as important will be the question of Pliskova’s point construction against Osaka’s shotmaking, with the former needing to be able to step into the court before the latter can find an appealing angle and the right ball to crush. If Pliskova keeps things awkward, working Osaka with consistent depth and changes in direction, she should have a chance, if she’s merely trading bombs, the Japanese will win. The good news is that either way, we should be treated to some high-quality attacking tennis.
Night session (from 7:30pm)
Stefanos Tsitsipas (GRE)  v Rafael Nadal (ESP) 
Ladies and gentlemen, are you ready for Fedal XXXIX!? Well, I guess Stefanos Tsitsipas wasn’t – let’s hope that in the Swiss’ stead he can make for a decent facsimile. Still yet to drop a set this tournament, Nadal is looking about as ominous on hard courts as he ever has, particularly with the extra “oomph” he’s added to his serve. So what chance does Tsitsipas have? Having spent considerably more time on court and trailing the head-to-head 2-0, the odds certainly aren’t favourable for the young Greek, but if he can manage to keep up the attacking tempo he’s had in his other matches, you have to give him a puncher’s chance. If Tsitsipas is able to flatten his shots out consistently (and that’s no guarantee for him), not get discouraged from the inevitable passes when attacking the net, and step into any ball looped to his backhand, maybe he can emulate what his idol Federer did two years ago, but anything less, and Nadal will simply string him along until he either misses or the Spaniard can make a pass. Realistically, this is Rafa’s to lose, and if Tsitsipas takes anything more than a set, it will be a great surprise.
Friday (from 7:30pm)
Novak Djokovic (SRB)  v Lucas Pouille (FRA) 
Readers of my quarterfinal preview for Lucas Pouille will note I all but wrote off the 24-year-old Frenchman – dare I make the same mistake again? Certainly he comes in a heavy underdog against Novak Djokovic, as the Serb is going to play far more resolute defense than Milos Raonic did, and that will make it a lot harder for Pouille’s attacking game. Perhaps the one thing that works in Pouille’s favour will be his unfamiliarity – this being his first career meeting with Djokovic – and if the six-time AO champ settles in for a grind-fest, he might be able to surprise him with the variety of shots at his disposal. If Pouille can mix things up – play sharp angles, hit aggressively down the line, mix in the occasional chip-and-charge and serve well, maybe he can rally the crowd and cause Djokovic to lose his composure, but anything less, and the Serb will move on easily.