Karolina Pliskova claimed her 3rd Brisbane title in 4 years after she beat Madison Keys at the Brisbane International on Sunday in a marathon final, 6-4 4-6 7-5, making history in the process.
I think it's always difficult to defend because, to be in a great shape at that moment where you just won last year, a lot of things need to happen. Karolina Pliskova
The match went the distance, with Pliskova taking the opening set and Keys levelling by the same margin, setting the stage for a hotly contested decider between two players who had not faced each other before.
For the second straight season, Pliskova has opened her season with a Premier-level title in Brisbane and now will be aiming to claim her first Grand Slam title this year after only making one major final in her career.
Facing Keys, the No 8 seed, for the first time, the World No 2 managed to avoid the same fate that befell her compatriot Petra Kvitova in the semi-final round, with the American again rallying to force a final set from a set and a break deficit.
In the high-quality and evenly matched final, Pliskova seized the early advantage when she broke Keys at 4-4 then held serve to take the first set in 39 minutes.
Although Pliskova broke Keys at 2-2 in the 2nd, Keys won 4 of the next 5 games to stretch the match to a final set as Pliskova’s big serve went off the boil and the American upped her level.
Ultimately, the margins were no finer than they proved to be in the final set, with Pliskova needing two opportunities to seal the match.
In the decider, both stayed on serve over the course of the first 6 games when Pliskova broke Keys in the 7th, but then faltered under the pressure of serving for the match at 5-4.
The American couldn’t take advantage, and Pliskova broke straight back, this time making no mistake, holding to love and taking the title when a Keys backhand return sailed wide, having denied the American two chances to hold serve in a crucial 11th game.
Pliskova had powered to her 4th break of the match, and wrapped up victory with her first love hold after 2 hours and 7 minutes, successfully defending her title and winning the 16th WTA singles trophy of her career to date.
“I think it’s always difficult to defend because, to be in a great shape at that moment where you just won last year, a lot of things need to happen,” she said.
“I don’t think it was perfect tournament, maybe last year I played here and there a little better, but maybe I was fighting more this time and just somehow find a way to win the matches, which is important.
“I beat only good top players, so there was nobody easy this time, maybe compared to last year, I think the draw was a little bit different. So, of course especially, in the beginning of the year I think it’s no better start.”
The former World No 1 now owns the tournament record for titles in Brisbane, as she entered the championship match tied with Serena Williams and Victoria Azarenka, who each have won two titles in Queensland.
She believes the conditions in Brisbane are well-suited to her game, adding: “It feels like more an inside court, so it’s not really open and feels like indoors. So I think anytime I just play good indoors. I won a couple of titles indoors too, so the conditions are perfect for me.
“There’s no wind, no sun, so I can really hit it full power and the ball’s not going to go really anywhere. And I like it here. Now I have a lot of memories here so there is no reason to not be playing well here.”
Keys reflected on a tight match which, she felt, could have been won by either player.
“It was a few points here and there,” she said. “I think I had a few opportunities to break earlier in the first and second set and didn’t convert.
“She served really well both times. And then in the third set, I think there were just a few points here or there that I maybe didn’t play the point perfectly, but, all in all, it was a really close match.”
Pliskova reflected that her tough three-set win Keys was the ideal preparation for next week’s Australian Open.
Having beaten Naomi Osaka in a marathon 3-hour semi-final on Saturday night, and then defeating Keys in another gruelling clash on Sunday afternoon shows she has both the form and fitness heading into the Australian Open.
She said while she still saw the Brisbane International primarily as part of her Melbourne preparations, it was a good tournament to win.
“Especially beating the last two players, Naomi and Madison,” she said.
“I think it always gives you some extra confidence and at least you know which level are you at, so I think it was a great way to start the year.
“But of course, Grand Slam or any other tournament it always starts on zero, so there’s nobody’s really thinking that, ‘Oh, she won a tournament two weeks ago’.
“I can still feel well and confident and whatever, but I think we still have to start from zero.”
Keys, who reached the US Open final in 2016 on her way to a career-high world ranking of 7, had a resurgent 2019, winning titles in Charleston and Cincinnati.
She will also fancy her chances at Melbourne Park after coming from a set down to beat two-time Wimbledon champion Petra Kvitova in the semi-finals and then pushing Pliskova all the way in the decider.
“I think, obviously, it’s great because you’re playing some really good tennis going into some of the biggest tournaments,” Keys said about taking confidence from reaching the Brisbane final into the Australian Open.
In the doubles final, Ash Barty and partner Kiki Bertens were denied an early 2020 title as Hsieh Su-wei & Barbora Strycova clinched the doubles crown in Brisbane.
The pair missed a match point against the top seeds, who snatched the title in the match tiebreak, 3-6 7-6(7) [10-8] .
Australia’s World No 1 singles player reminded home fans of her doubles pedigree as the unseeded pair got within a point of the match in the second-set tiebreak.
Barty’s clutch serving and deft hands weren’t enough though as the Wimbledon champions prevailed on Pat Rafter Arena.
“It was a hell of a match and it set the tone for the season!”@ashbarty reflected on a superb @BrisbaneTennis doubles final on Twitter.
Barty had lost her second-round singles match to qualifier Jennifer Brady in her first singles match of the year, having received a first-round bye.
Her doubles run meant the Queenslander still earned about $65,000 at the tournament despite her early singles exit, all of which she pledged to donate to the Red Cross Fire Appeal.
“With everything that’s been going on in Australia, the way that everyone’s come together’s been incredible and, all and all, I’m bloody proud to be an Aussie,” Barty said at the trophy presentation.
The Adelaide International, where Barty will start as top seed, awaits the 23-year-old in her final warm-up event before the Australian Open starts on 20 January.