BRISBANE, Australia – No.2 seed Karolina Pliskova took another step towards defending her Brisbane International title as she overcame Alison Riske, 7-6(6), 6-3 in one hour 55 minutes in a competitive quarterfinal.
The Czech approached the encounter with a 6-0 head-to-head record against the WTA World No.19, but had been pushed to more than two hours in each of their previous three meetings and was again seriously troubled by an opponent who shot into the Top 20 in the second half of 2019.
Riske, who held a 4-5 record against Top 10 players last year, even held two set points in the opener after fighting back from a break down, but could not maintain that level into the second as the WTA World No.2 continued her dominance over her.
“It’s always close,” Pliskova said in her on-court interview. “I don’t know what it is about us, but we always play good tennis together. We have a very similar game, there’s always tiebreaks and I was lucky this time because she had a couple of set points. But I’m happy I got through in two sets as it was a hard match today.
“I don't think I played amazing. I think I played solid, for sure, it was not the worst match in my life but for sure not the best one.”
The 27-year-old was forced into a deciding set in her previous match against Ajla Tomljanovic but having come through that test she started this encounter positively. Three break points were created in Riske’s first service game, and though the first two were missed, a weak second serve was dispatched to send a clear message to her opponent.
The players then exchanged breaks before a coaching pep talk from Billy Heiser sparked Riske into her best form of the match. Asked to be more aggressive, a fine backhand winner down the line allowed her to hold serve for the first time and gain a genuine foothold in the match.
Though she would miss five break points in the seventh game, two excellent deep returns drew mistakes from Pliskova and got the set back on serve, sending it spinning to into a tiebreak.
"I was 4-1 up but then I lost six points or five points in a row, which is I think too much, especially with my serve," Pliskova said. "I think she also played some good tennis. But I think that the biggest mistake in that set was just to give her that chance to come back from 5-2 and even though she was not playing the best tennis in the beginning.
"I think I just gave her some chances to go back in that set. And then she was playing good tennis, so there was nothing really to do about it."
After a tentative start to the shootout, Riske enjoyed a five-point run to carry her to a 6-4 advantage. Pliskova, though, rose to the challenge impressively and ultimately got over the line as her opponent, who was plagued by double faults throughout, hit one at the most ill-timed moment.
The momentum of the match had decisively shifted in favor of Pliskova, who moved immediately ahead in the second set.
Riske showcased her trademark spirit to level, but the Czech moved away again in the middle of the set thanks to two fine passing winners as inconsistency again dogged the 29-year-old.
Having seen off danger on a break point with a fine forehand down the line, Pliskova then sealed the match at the third opportunity by breaking again as Riske netted.
Naomi Osaka now waits in the semifinals as Pliskova aims for a third Brisbane title.
Reflecting upon her Australian Open semifinal loss to the Japanese last year, she said: “It was 6-4 in the third, which is a match that could both ways. And I remember I beat her in the final of Tokyo, so I’ve got some good memories too.”
“I saw her playing today and she played some great tennis so it’s going to be a good match and challenging.”