Karolina Pliskova did the unthinkable Wednesday afternoon at the Australian Open. The Czech was down 5-1 and a match point in the final set to Serena Williams yet somehow managed to come back and win six straight games and stun 7-time champion 6-4, 4-6, 7-5 to reach her first Australian Open semifinal.
“I think it’s going to be the best comeback ever so far in my life,” Pliskova said.
Pliskova actually rolled out of the starting gate, thumping groundstrokes to secure and early break on the tournament favorite. She rode her dominant serve coasting to a 6-4, 3-2 lead with a break when Serena turned the tables, finally breaking Pliskova and doing it at love. The match was on.
The 23-time Grand Slam winner found the range and ran off 9 of 11 games to take what looked to be a insurmountable 5-1 lead in the third. That’s when things got really interesting (as things often do when Serena loses).
Holding a match point at 5-1, 40-30, Serena suddenly was called for a foot fault. She shrugged it off. But then during the second serve point, she rolled her left ankle. She didn’t appear to be in great pain (nor did she ever call the trainer), but the twist affected her play and she lost the point. Back to deuce.
And from there, she served a double fault and things quickly unraveled for Serena. Sensing a shift, Pliskova- who was all but out of the match – played more freely and began striking the ball as she had earlier in the match. Serena, who appeared to be a little restricted in her movement, couldn’t keep pace. Points were piling up, all in favor of Pliskova.
Serving 4-5, Pliskova got in a 15-40 hole but was able to save two more match points and later another to escape.
Meanwhile, Serena didn’t win another point on serve after the ankle roll. She was broken twice at love and ultimately lost the last six games of the match in a shocking collapse.
“My ankle seems to be fine,” Serena lamented. “I think she just played lights out on match point, literally, hitting lines.
“I don’t think it had anything to do with my ankle, per se. I just think she was just nailing and hitting shots. Obviously I made some mistakes, but she played really well after that.”
For Pliskova, it was the second time she’s beaten Serena in a Grand Slam.
“You don’t really feel like you’re going to win this match,” Pliskova said.
“You need luck, of course, because this is I think not happening often, maybe once in life. But I went for it. I just said, Like whatever. Maybe this can be over, but let’s just try this game. I was with the wind, which kind of helped me little bit. I just went for my shots.
“I played actually a good game I think going on 5-2. Then, you know, I said, Okay, let’s try to hold my serve. Then we will see what’s going to happen. She was already match point up in that 5-1 game. Lot of things happened I felt like in those games. I just felt a chance.
“I think she maybe got little bit, I don’t, for sure it was in her head. Lot of things happen. I saw a chance and I just took it.”
The 37-year-old Serena leaves Melbourne without holding a single Grand Slam title in last 12 months. And she will continue her chase for 24 at the French Open. She has yet to win a title in any of the eight events she’s played since returning as a mother.
In the early quarterfinal, US Open champion Naomi Osaka won her 12th straight Grand Slam match pounding Elina Svitolina 6-4, 6-1.
It was fairly tight first set which say Osaka get an early break, but then the 21-year-old blew the doors off Svitolina.
“It feels really good,” Osaka said of making the semifinals for the first time in Australia. “This is something that I have been working on a lot, which is, like, trying to get deeper in tournaments more consistently. I think I have been able to do that.
“For me right now I just try to keep looking forward. So I’m not really satisfied – like, I am happy that I’m here, but at the same time, I want to keep going. There is more matches to win.”
Svitolina took a lengthy medical timeout down 3-0 in the second for a neck or shoulder issue. But the battle was lost. She slumps to 0-4 in Grand Slam quarterfinals.
“Well, definitely today was not about the luck, I would say, because, you know, she played good tennis,” Svitolina said. “Unfortunately I couldn’t produce 100% the game that I wanted. But in the end, she was just playing better today.”
The semifinal Thursday line-up is set. Sydney champion Petra Kvitova leads off against the hot-handed Danielle Collins – the American just pushed Kvitova to three sets earlier this month. And then Osaka will take on Brisbane winner Pliskova.
Either way, the Australian Open will have a new women’s champion on Saturday.
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