ABU DHABI, U.A.E. -- No.3 seed Karolina Pliskova of the Czech Republic adjusted successfully to a late twist at the Abu Dhabi WTA Women’s Tennis Open, as she defeated lucky loser Despina Papamichail of Greece, 6-2, 7-6(4), in the opening round.
World No.6 Pliskova was slated to play Sorana Cirstea of Romania when the day began, but Cirstea unfortunately had to withdraw due to an abdominal injury prior to the match. Papamichail moved into the draw in Cirstea's place, allowing the 27-year-old Greek to make her WTA main draw debut.
The former World No.1, though, remained unfazed by the substitution, staving off a strong second-set surge from the Greek to emerge victorious after one hour and 19 minutes of play. Pliskova out-winnered Papamichail by 25 to nine during the contest, and the Czech converted three of her six break points to wrap up the victory.
"Of course, I prepared for something, but I still had a couple of hours just to change my feeling about that match," Pliskova told the media, during her post-match press conference. "No matter who was there, I wanted to play the best I can."
"I thought the first set was quite okay," Pliskova added. "Definitely I could do better at the end of the second set, when I was serving for the match, but I didn’t quite make it. But also credit to the opponent, she tried to make it a little bit difficult. Later in the second set, she was defending quite well."
"I had some good moments, some bad moments, but I’m happy to win my first match this year," the Czech stated.
Pliskova is attempting to win a title in the opening week of the WTA season for the fourth time in five years -- the Czech did so at Brisbane in 2017, 2019, and 2020. In the next round, she will meet either Mona Barthel of Germany or Russian qualifier Anastasia Gasanova.
Pliskova’s patented powerful game was already in full effect in her first set of the season, and the Czech thunderously earned the first break of the match with a backhand crosscourt winner, moving ahead 3-1.
Papamichail maintained her composure in the face of the former World No.1’s imposing game, and used a batch of brilliant backhands to garner a love hold and stay within touching distance at 4-2. However, Pliskova matched the Greek in efficiency and blasted her way to a love hold of her own in the next game, putting herself within striking distance of a one-set lead at 5-2.
There, an untimely double fault by the Greek put her behind 0-40, giving Pliskova three set points. Papamichail forced an error with another strong backhand to save the first, but on the second, Pliskova closed out the set with a volley winner. The Czech had 11 winners to Papamichail's four in the opening set.
Lucky loser Papamichail kept things even closer in the second set, but it was still former World No.1 Pliskova who was the first to get ahead, breaking at love for 5-3 and a chance to serve out the match.
However, Papamichail saved some of her best play for the latter stages of the encounter. The Greek knocked off a stirring backhand passing winner down the line to reach triple break point in the very next game, and she notched her first service break of the day at 30-40 when Pliskova sent a forehand wide at the end of a long rally.
The late surge was enough to get Papamichail into a second-set tiebreak, but during the breaker, the Pliskova forehand began to dominate, pulling the Czech to a 5-2 advantage. Another fierce forehand gave Pliskova a 6-2 lead and four match points; though she squandered two with a double fault and a missed return, the third time was the charm as a deep return was too much for Papamichail.