To mark the end of an incredible 2017 season, we're counting down the Top 5 WTA matches of the year!
No.4 is Caroline Wozniacki's rain-interrupted takedown of newly top-ranked Karolina Pliskova in the Rogers Cup quarterfinals.
The Rogers Cup saw Karolina Pliskova take to the court for the first time as the World No.1. Expectations were high for the Czech to back up her newfound position during the American hardcourt season, as it was at this time last year where she made her breakthroughs at the highest level, winning the Western & Southern Open in Cincinnati and reaching the final at the US Open.
No one thought Pliskova’s quarterfinal match in Toronto against Caroline Wozniacki would be an easy task, but the Czech had come out the victor in two of their three prior matches in 2017, including a quick win in their last encounter, the championship match of the Aegon International Eastbourne. Pliskova, though, would soon find out that being at the pinnacle of the rankings guaranteed nothing.
Read the match report: Wozniacki scores first No.1 win, defeats Pliskova in Toronto epic
For example, start times are never a given, as the opening of the match was delayed due to rainy conditions. Pliskova won the battle by racing out to a 5-1 lead when the match finally commenced, although she would soon struggle to win the war.
Two more precipitation interruptions occurred during the first set, and it was during this stretch where Wozniacki began to revise her strategy and turn the set around. The Danish player attacked more on her returns, and this shift, in concert with her exquisite defense, frustrated Pliskova. Before long, Wozniacki had reeled off six straight games to take the first set.
The two battled through a second set without a break of service. Wozniacki continued to ramp up her aggression, serving more aces in the set than her opponent, who would finish 2017 as the ace leader on the WTA. Pliskova, however, pipped Wozniacki in the tiebreak, claiming the final four points of the set with powerful hitting to level the match at one set apiece.
The momentum seemed to stay with the top seed, as she raced to a 4-2 lead in the final set, and the crawl towards a dominant hardcourt season by Pliskova appeared inexorable. But four errors by Pliskova on her serve at 4-3 allowed Wozniacki to level the set.
As the match reached its conclusion, Wozniacki was particularly indefatigable against a deflated Pliskova, and the Dane closed out the match, winning the final four games en route to a marathon 7-5, 6-7(3), 6-4 victory.
WHAT THEY SAID:
Wozniacki stayed steely to seal the upset after nearly three hours. “I was maybe a little bit less tired towards the end," she said. "You know, I just kept hanging in there. I thought we both played a really good match.”
The Danish player successfully adjusted her tactics during the match. "I thought she started off really strongly and she was attacking and playing really, really well," Wozniacki said. "After that, I feel like I stepped a little bit closer to the line just to try and take away a little bit of time.” Wozniacki also credited the work she put in to improve her serve -- an upgrade which would pay dividends at the end of the year.
Pliskova, meanwhile, struggled with Wozniacki’s typical unwillingness to give up on any single point. "Overall, I think the match was much longer than just the hours on the court,” Pliskova said afterwards. “It's just tough to play her in these conditions. She's putting everything back, so obviously, I did some mistakes."
“I just played one bad game when it was 4-3, serving, so that's it,” Pliskova lamented, seeing her reign at No.1 kick off with an unexpected snag.
Wozniacki understood the significance of beating Pliskova as a form player rather than the current World No.1. "She's had a great year and she's been playing really well,” said Wozniacki. “I don't really think about [beating a No.1] too much. I knew I was going to play someone that was really tough today, and I'm just happy with my win and that's really it."
WHAT IT MEANS:
Wozniacki’s steady ascent throughout 2017 got a jolt after this confidence-boosting win, which was her first ever victory over a World No.1 in her storied career, and she carried this strong form into a stellar autumn campaign.
Wozniacki went on to garner two more wins over World No.1 players (different players, Garbiñe Muguruza and Simona Halep, to boot), and went 2-0 in finals for the rest of the year, most significantly at the BNP Paribas WTA Finals Singapore presented by SC Global. Her triumph in Singapore, which included another win over Pliskova, catapulted her to the World No.3 ranking -- her highest year-end ranking since finishing at World No.1 in 2011.
By contrast, Pliskova’s recently achieved reign at World No.1 would come to an end soon after this match. One month later, a disappointing loss to CoCo Vandeweghe in the US Open quarterfinals would cause the Czech to cede the top position to Muguruza. Pliskova would not reach any more finals for the rest of the year, and slid to World No.4 in the year-end rankings -- right behind her Rogers Cup conqueror.