Defending champion Karolina Pliskova pulled off a titanic victory over Naomi Osaka after saving a match point at the Brisbane International on Saturday night, keeping alive her chances of securing a third title here in four years.
I think I did a good job to stay in there after a tough first set, and in the second I just kept fighting and it paid off Karolina Pliskova
The pair served up a high-quality contest, eventually won 6-7(12) 7-6(3) 6-2 by the World No 2 Pliskova after 2 hours and 51 minutes of enthralling tennis.
“That was one of the best matches that I’ve played on this court,” Pliskova said.
“It was a great standard, and she’s always tough to play against.”
The tall Czech will play Madison Keys in Sunday’s final, hoping to add to her 2017 and 2019 triumphs.
Osaka was extended the distance in all three of her prior matches this week, and was looking to continue her career-best 14- match win streak, while Pliskova was bidding to win her 16th match in Brisbane, the most match wins in the tournament’s history.
These two are no strangers to long matches against each other, Osaka having edged Pliskova 6-4 in the third in the Australian Open semi-finals on her way to the title last year, but few expected a match of this quality and length in the first tournament of the year.
With both players serving exceptionally well, the first set almost inevitably went to a tiebreak, which Osaka clinched on her 5th set point.
The second was a repeat of the first with few opportunities to break until Pliskova faltered at 5-5 to give Osaka the chance to serve for the match.
It had looked all but over when the World No 4 took the 6-5 lead, but she tightened up and couldn’t convert after coming from 0-30 down to 40-30 as Pliskova rallied, saved the match point and then broke to send the set into a tiebreak, taking it with the loss of just 3 points.
Pliskova controlled the decider but there was one final twist when Osaka saved 2 match points before the Czech finally ended the tussle with another un-returnable serve.
“I think I did a good job to stay in there after a tough first set, and in the second I just kept fighting and it paid off,” Pliskova added.
The pair served 29 aces between them and had brutal baseline rallies in a contest befitting a final.
That will come on Sunday for the Czech, though, against in-form American Keys who had rallied from a set and break down to beat Petra Kvitova.
In the earlier semi-final, Keys had held firm when it counted to beat two time Wimbledon champion, 3-6 6-2 6-3, and make her first Brisbane final.
The World No 13 and 8th seed couldn’t rely on her huge serve as Kvitova, ranked 5 spots ahead, climbed into it in the early exchanges on the closed Pat Rafter Arena.
It moved the left-handed 6th seed within striking distance of an easy kill, but a chat to coach Juan Todero helped Keys turn the tables on the Czech, swinging the momentum towards the American, an Australian Open semi-finalist 5 years ago, as she gradually assumed control.
“He pretty much just said ‘don’t be discouraged’,” Keys said.
“I felt like I had chances, but couldn’t close on those … and once I did, I felt the momentum went back and forth but I gained confidence.
Keys, who had beaten Samantha Stosur in the second round and not dropped a set in her 3 previous matches, surged from 0-2 down to level proceedings.
After losing that first set and being down an early break in the second, Keys began to serve more effectively and found her range on her groundstrokes against an increasingly nervous Kvitova.
From 0-2 down and staring a semi-final exit in the face, the 8th seeded Keys broke back to make it 2-2 and surged ahead to level the match.
Both players struggled to hold serve in the final set, with 5 service breaks in a row, but at 5-3 Keys held her nerve and from 0-30 she won 4 points in a row to become the first American into a Brisbane final since Serena Williams won the title in 2014.
Keys won 9 of 10 games on Saturday afternoon in a remarkable mid-match recovery against the tournament’s 2011 champion.
Still, Kvitova found another gear, breaking twice in the see-sawing final set, but Keys unloaded from the baseline and forced her to miss a low volley to land the crucial break before coming from 0-30 to serve out the match in exactly 2 hours.
Keys made the French Open quarter-finals and also the last 16 at the 2019 US and Australian opens, but a bright start to the season is something she will not be taking for granted.
“I’m very happy but I’m very tired,” she said. “From getting broken in the second set on, I think I played a pretty high level.
“I’ve definitely started the year playing some really terrible tennis so it’s nice to be on this side of things.”
Despite losing her opening singles match in Brisbane, Australian World No 1 Ashleigh Barty has managed to get valuable court time on the way to the women’s doubles final.
She will partner Kiki Bertens against top seeds Barbora Strycova & Su-Wei Hsieh in Sunday’s first match.