BRISBANE, Australia - For the second straight season, Karolina Pliskova has opened her season with a title at the Brisbane International.
The No.2 seed secured a third career title at the Premier-level event by virtue of a 6-4, 4-6, 7-5 victory over No.8 seed Madison Keys inside Pat Rafter Arena.
Facing Keys for the first time, Pliskova managed to avoid the same fate that befell her compatriot Petra Kvitova in the semifinal round, with Keys again rallying to force a final set from a set and a break deficit.
From 6-4, 3-2 behind, Keys won four of the next five games to stretch the match to a final set, which stayed on serve over the course of the first six games.
Ultimately, the margins were no finer than they proved to be in the final set, with Pliskova needing two opportunities to seal the match.
After breaking serve in the seventh game, the Czech was broken in her first attempt to serve out the match at 5-4 -- but made no such mistake the second time around.
After denying Keys two chances to hold serve in a crucial 11th game, Pliskova powered to her fourth break of the match, and wrapped up victory with her first love hold after two hours and seven minutes.
For the first time in her career, the Czech successfully defends a WTA title, winning the 16th WTA singles trophy of her career to date.
"I think it's always difficult to defend because, to be in a great shape at that moment where you just won last year, a lot of things need to happen," she said. "I don't think it was perfect tournament, maybe last year I played here and there a little better, but maybe I was fighting more this time and just somehow find a way to win the matches, which is important.
"I beat only good top players, so there was nobody easy this time, maybe compared to last year, I think the draw was a little bit different. So, of course especially, in the beginning of the year I think it's no better start."
The former World No.1 now owns the tournament record for titles in Brisbane, as she entered the championship match tied with Serena Williams and Victoria Azarenka, who each have won two titles in Queensland.
She believes the conditions in Brisbane are well-suited to her game, adding: "It feels like more an inside court, so it's not really open and feels like indoors. So I think anytime I just play good indoors. I won a couple of titles indoors too, so the conditions are perfect for me.
"There's no wind, no sun, so I can really hit it full power and the ball's not going to go really anywhere. And I like it here. Now I have a lot of memories here so there is no reason to not be playing well here."
Keys reflected on a tight match which, she felt, could have been won by either player. "It was a few points here and there," she said. "I think I had a few opportunities to break earlier in the first and second set and didn't convert. She served really well both times. And then in the third set, I think there were just a few points here or there that I maybe didn't play the point perfectly, but, all in all, it was a really close match."