BRISBANE, Australia - One point away from seeing her title defense end in the semifinals, No.2 seed Karolina Pliskova pulled off a stunning escape against No.3 seed Naomi Osaka at the Brisbane International.
Saving a match point, the Czech rallied for a marathon two-hour and 48-minute victory 6-7(10), 7-6(3), 6-2 to advance to a third career final in Queensland, and a first-ever meeting with American Madison Keys.
"It was a good match," Pliskova told the media. "I'm especially proud that I stayed in there because it could have gone a really bad way after the first set, which was huge and so close and so nervous.
"The main positive was that I somehow stayed close to her, even when she broke me in that game at 5-all. I was still fighting, which was the most positive thing today."
A year after she lamented a listless semifinal performance inside Pat Rafter Arena against Lesia Tsurenko, the reigning Australian Open champion showed some of her best tennis in in her return to the semifinal round, serving for the match at 7-6(10), 6-5.
Nonetheless, Pliskova earned her first break of Osaka's serve -- after saving the match point at 40-30 -- to force a tiebreak, and ramped up her her own service performance in the final set.
She later agreed that the momentum shifted on the match point.
"But the set still wasn't over because there was the tiebreak to come and I lost the first one," she said. "But I definitely felt I played a great game at 6-all, so maybe my energy was up a bit more and I also had nothing to lose.
"I was mentally much stronger and maybe physically too. I felt like I wasn't going to lose the third set."
The Czech served eight of her 15 aces in the final set, saving all six break points against her, and never trailed after jumping on Osaka's serve in the first game.
All six of Osaka's break point chances came in Pliskova's last two service games, with the No.2 seed digging out of a 0-40 hole to hold for 4-2, and saving three more in the final game before converting her third match point.
In a high-quality match from both players, the two former World No.1s combined for a stunning stat line.
Osaka served 16 aces, and tallied 53 winners to 37 unforced errors, while Pliskova recorded 15 aces, saved 12 of the 13 break points she faced, and hit 52 winners to 28 unforced.
"I've not played in many, but that was a Grand Slam final-type match, the first two sets," Osaka said. "I thought they were really good.
"She was serving really well -- we were both serving really well. It obviously came down to the tiebreaks in both of them.
"In the third set, I was just lingering too much on the match point that I missed. And I've played so many matches three sets, my body was kind of like: 'Why are you doing this again?'"
Pliskova, currently tied for the tournament record of two titles with Victoria Azarenka and Serena Williams, will look to win for the third time in the past four years in Sunday's final, in which Madison Keys waits.
"She's the last top player I've never played," Pliskova said. "I think it's great that there's still someone I've not played."