SHENZHEN, China -- No.2 seed Karolina Pliskova of the Czech Republic completed the singles semifinal lineup at the Shiseido WTA Finals Shenzhen on Friday, grabbing the last spot in the final four with a gripping 6-0, 2-6, 6-4 victory over reigning Wimbledon champion Simona Halep of Romania.
"I think overall was a good match," said Pliskova, during her post-match press conference. "I think a little bit up and down from both of us. But that's how it is sometimes."
Former World No.1 Pliskova propels herself into the semifinals of the WTA Finals for the third consecutive year, as the Czech seeks her first trip to the final of the season-ending crown-jewel event.
"Semifinal is, of course, great," Pliskova stated. "Now third time, so there's always the chance to go little bit more. That's my goal for now."
World No.5 Halep came into the tilt with a 7-3 head-to-head lead overall on Pliskova, but the Czech had earned a straight-set win in their only prior meeting this year in Miami. Pliskova made it two wins in a row over Halep with a topsy-turvy victory in the round-robin portion of the season finale.
LIVE BLOG As It Happened: How Pliskova tallied rollercoaster win over Halep to book Shenzhen semis
The duo had a nearly equal amount of unforced errors in their encounter, but Pliskova blasted 28 winners to Halep's 15 as she powered to triumph after one hour and 43 minutes of action.
"I'm fighting, doing my best," said Pliskova. "Of course, maybe my game is not 100 percent working here as I would love to. I play one more ball always. It's still working."
— WTA (@WTA) November 1, 2019
With her victory giving her a second-place finish in the Purple Group, World No.2 Pliskova sets up an intriguing semifinal battle between the first- and second-ranked players in the world, as she will face World No.1 Ashleigh Barty of Australia on Saturday for a place in the championship match.
"Of course, she's World No.1, it's going to be extremely difficult," Pliskova admitted. "She's also great on this surface. It suits her well. We did practice last week. It's not impossible. Of course, my goal now is to go little bit more than last two years."
After punching a volley to hold serve in the opening game, Pliskova began a first-set barrage. The Czech used resplendent returning to pull through a tight game and break for 2-0, setting the tone for the remainder of the set. Stellar serving, as is her custom, garnered Pliskova easy holds en route to a commanding 5-0 lead.
The Czech was also clicking on her forehand side early in the match, but she was helped by Halep’s mounting miscue count as the set progressed, as the Romanian ended the first set with 10 unforced errors to just three winners.
Pliskova, though, was unstoppable in the opening frame, closing it out after just 20 minutes by breaking Halep for the third time with a backhand winner -- the Czech’s eleventh winner of the match, compared to a scant three unforced errors.
"I think I was playing great the first set," Pliskova admitted. "I think kind of she was playing the way I wanted, to have the balls exactly where she played. I just felt great. I was really going for my shots. Her serve was not really effective. I was really pushing her from the second serve. I didn't really miss much, that's true."
— WTA (@WTA) November 1, 2019
The second set, however, was a markedly different story, as Halep worked her way into the clash. Pliskova faltered for the first time, quickly dropping serve in the opening game of the set, double faulting on break point. The Czech was able to pull back on serve shortly thereafter, breaking at love for 2-2, but Halep reclaimed her break advantage, firing a winning volley to lead 3-2.
Halep continued her roll, reaching 5-2 by earning a second break of the vaunted Pliskova service by ending consecutive points with down-the-line backhand winners. At this juncture, the Romanian was scampering around the court, moving into the forecourt to finish points as she started to out-maneuver the Czech.
Pliskova had three chances to break back in the final game of the second set, but Halep stayed steely. The Romanian fended each of them off, eventually earning her second of two set points in the game with another backhand winner down the line, and blasted an ace to convert that chance. Halep’s winner count rose to nine in the second set, one more than powerful Pliskova.
"I think she did good job the second set," Pliskova admitted. "She just changed little bit the pace, played little bit more clever, was waiting more for mistakes, which of course to play two sets like this is really tough, especially on this surface where every point you have to really play."
Halep kept her momentum going as the decider kicked off, breaking Pliskova in the first game with a stirring backhand return winner down the line that fell right into the corner. A hold for 2-0 gave Halep a sixth straight game and a slim advantage in the final set.
However, Pliskova stormed back, recovering her aggressive action with outstanding overheads and fiery forehands, earning a love break to level the set at 2-2. The Czech powered through a tense, close game to hold on for 3-2, as a forehand winner down the line sealed a third straight game for the World No.2.
— WTA (@WTA) November 1, 2019
Halep then dropped serve at love again, as the Czech began to pull away, building a 5-2 lead. Serving for the match at 5-3, though, Pliskova had ill-timed errors, and Halep took advantage of those to get back on serve and give herself a lifeline.
The Romanian forced errors to take a 30-0 lead in the 5-4 game, but beautiful backhands from Pliskova pulled her to 30-30. Suddenly, a long backhand error from Halep gave the Czech match point, and fortune favored the bold as Pliskova fired a forehand which clipped the netcord and fell on Halep’s side of the court, giving the No.2 seed a hard-fought victory.
"I think I did good job overall through whole the match just going for it," Pliskova said, when asked about the very last point. "I think this [point] was the reward."
"The game was almost lost, I was 0-30, I just went for couple shots," Pliskova recalled. "I think I just got it like a present from somebody. Of course, it was big relief after this point because I felt was going to end up in the net. I was kind of happy, of course. Felt sorry for her because the match was so close. This kind of point at the last point is not the best."
"It's the last push," said Pliskova, as she looked towards the end of the season. "That's why maybe I'm doing so well. If there is maybe two or three more weeks after, maybe I'm not doing so well. Right now I'm giving everything I have."
"I recover every time quite well after tough matches, tough tournaments, tough weeks," Pliskova added. "I've been playing a lot of seasons quite till the end now in a row. It's not always easy. Of course, I feel tired. But I do what I love."