DUBAI, UAE - Karolina Pliskova overcame a slow start to defeat Carla Suárez Navarra, 5-7, 6-2, 6-4 in the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships.
The players came into this match having faced each other six times before, with three wins each. That statistic suggested a complicated match for the WTA World No.5 and that was exactly what transpired as she struggled to find consistency throughout.
Indeed, the 2015 finalist lost the opening set before fighting back to win in three in a match that took close to two hours to complete.
"I didn't play well," Pliskova admitted afterwards. "We were both struggling a little bit.
"I've not played many matches in the last couple of weeks since I arrived from Melbourne, so I'm just finding my rhythm."
Pliskova exploded into the match, breaking in the opening game to 15 thanks to a number of powerful, flat forehands, though a series of unforced errors immediately saw her cede the break and set the tone for a scrappy opening set.
Her hot-and-cold start continued with her serve was not making its usual mark, while her frequent forays to the net were indecisive.
Suárez Navarro, meanwhile, might have lacked the power of her opponent, yet her short angles were sufficient to disrupt the rhythm of the WTA World No.5.
After breaks in the opening two games, nine successive holds were achieved with relative comfort, before the door was left ajar for the Spaniard as Pliskova served successive double faults. Suárez Navarro brought the set within reach thanks to a forehand winner then sealed, fittingly, as the Czech produced a 15th unforced error.
She offered a strong, immediate response by breaking serve in the opening game of the second set – the first that had gone to deuce in the whole match – then reinforced her position of power by holding to love.
The momentum of the match had shifted, with Pliskova continuing to cut out the mistakes and find the lines. Her reward was a third successive game, and though there was a brief relapse into her first-set form, she pulled clear again to claim the second set 6-2, having hit 14 winners to her opponents one.
Suárez Navarro, though, was not finished. After fighting back from 0-30 down in the first game of the third set to hold, she then took advantage of impatient play from her opponent to take command of the decider.
Break points were being taken by both players with ruthless efficiency, and it was not until the third game of the third set that either managed to save one. However, it was insufficient for Suárez Navarro to hold serve as Pliskova rapidly rediscovered her groove in a match that was still without great rhythm or pattern.
A forehand winner onto the outside of the line that was unsuccessfully challenged by Suárez Navarro confirmed the favourite’s ascendancy in the deciding set as she claimed a third successive game, but the unpredictable nature of this match was emphasised as two breaks in the following two games arrived.
For Pliskova, however, that was a sufficient advantage to secure the match, with a backhand winner sealing her passage through to the quarterfinals.
"I think this type of win is important for the season, not when you are playing your best tennis. It's easy to win then," she said.
Nevertheless, Pliskova will feel that she needs to raise her game in the next round, when she will face No.6 seed Angelique Kerber, who beat qualifier Sara Errani in straight sets.