No.25 seed Karolina Muchova tallied her second win over Czech No.1 Karolina Pliskova at a Slam, defeating the No.6 seed 7-5, 7-5 in the third round of the Australian Open. The 24-year-old Muchova engineered an epic comeback in the second set, rallying from 0-5 down to win the last seven games of the match to book her 1st appearance in the second week in Melbourne.
Coming into the match, Muchova and Pliskova had split their two previous meetings. Pliskova ousted Muchova from the first round of the Australian Open in 2019, with Muchova getting her revenge at Wimbledon that same year, saving match points to defeat Pliskova 4-6, 7-5, 13-11 en route to her first major quarterfinal.
On Saturday, Muchova's steady and crafty all-court game unwound a shakey Pliskova, who admitted after the match that she is still searching for her top form.
"The feeling was not great from any of the matches here. Some were a little bit better, some were a little bit worse," Pliskova said.
"I think overall, too many mistakes, too much panic in the rallies. I don't know if it's just not having any matches much lately, even last year. I don't feel safe with anything that I was really doing on the court."
Muchova and Pliskova exchanged three breaks of serve to open the match, with Muchova earning the first hold of the match to move ahead to 3-1 before Pliskova got the set back on serve with a break to 3-3. The set would remain neck-and-neck until Pliskova finally relented in the 11th game, firing a double-fault on break point to hand the advantage to Muchova, who edged the set after saving break points in the final game, taking it 7-5.
"Definitely very tough," Muchova said. "Both of us, we were very nervous I would say. Lucky to get through, to hold the end of the first set."
After earning a point penalty at the start of the set for racquet abuse, Pliskova channeled her frustration into her hitting. The former No.1, who was bidding to snap a string of Week 1 losses at the last three Slams, surged to a 5-0 lead in the second set.
From there, Muchova got on the board, coming through a long deuce game to finally convert on her third game point. Muchova then broke quickly at 15 in the next game, as she elevated her game and began to pressure Pliskova in the corners.
"I thought there were couple close games where I could really go 6-0," Pliskova said. There was a long game for 5-1 and 6-0."
"I thought she just played a little bit better at this moment. Of course, I played quite amazing to 5-0, but then it's quite tough to hold this level for a longer time. I was going for big shots."
Serving for the set a second time at 5-3, Pliskova fired two double-faults en route to a 15-40 hole, giving Muchova two break points. Pliskova did well to level the game at deuce with two smart net approaches, but two strong returns from Muchova earned her the break to get the set back on serve.
"I think I had a little lull in the start of the second set," Muchova said. "But still, on her serve I had few breakpoints, I just didn't use them. It's about a few points. I just believed that I can still make it.
"I saw that she was a bit nervous and shaky. Definitely was as well about the head."
Muchova inched closer to the finish line thanks to back-to-back tight deuce games to hold and then break Pliskova to earn a chance to serve for the win at 6-5. From 15-all, Pliskova misfired on back-to-back forehands to give Muchova two match points. Muchova converted on her second, getting the better of Pliskova in an 11-shot rally to seal her comeback.
"All match was about to be there mentally and to fight," Muchova said. "Yeah, a few points. I'm happy. I'm happy that it worked out in a second set."
Muchova will face either Gippsland Trophy champion Elise Mertens or No.11 seed Belinda Bencic for a spot in her second major quarterfinal.