Karolina Pliskova pulled off a spirited comeback victory over her compatriot Barbora Krejcikova on Sunday afternoon in her final match of the season at the Akron WTA Finals.
In the all-Czech affair, No.3 seed Pliskova overcame 2nd-seeded Krejcikova 0-6, 6-4, 6-4 and improved to 2-1 in the Teotihuacán round-robin group. Krejcikova led 6-0, 4-2 before Pliskova stormed back to win.
For the Czechs, both Pliskova and Krejcikova failed to advance to the semifinals. Anett Kontaveit and Garbiñe Muguruza finished as the top two in the Teotihuacán Group and will be that group's semifinalists.
Pliskova says: "You never want to start a match like this, with my serve and with my game, not to be able to make a game," Pliskova told the press after the match. "[It] was a combination of her playing well, me not playing that well.
"But you just go back to really trying to make the simple things with the serve, maybe just to go for the serve which you feel the most confident about. Just to play simple, maybe couple crosscourts, not to go for crazy winners.
"So I just fought hard to give myself a chance, at least to wait, maybe she's going to miss a couple, because she didn't really miss anything the first set. It actually happened, of course quite late. But happy I stayed in there and just waited for the chance.
"With [coach] Sascha [Bajin], things are going great. Of course, we're set for next season, which is amazing for me. I hope also for him. I thought we had a great year. There is still many things we want to improve. Honestly I feel happy with him. I feel he understands me. We kind of are working well together. Hopefully we can have a couple more good years."
Fast facts: Pliskova had won her two previous meetings with Krejcikova, but both had occurred while Krejcikova was ranked well outside the Top 200, including a first-round clash at 2018 Roland Garros.
Nevertheless, Pliskova extended a spotless head-to-head against this year’s reigning Roland Garros singles and doubles champion Krejcikova with a 2-hour and 7-minute victory.
The former World No.1 Pliskova is the most experienced singles competitor at the 2021 WTA Finals, having qualified for the last five editions consecutively. But she just missed out on a fourth straight trip to the semifinals.
Stat corner: Pliskova had to shake off the dire set-and-a-break deficit to turn the match around. In the match as a whole, Krejcikova ended up with more winners (29 to 20) and fewer unforced errors (40 to 45), but Pliskova had four fewer unforced errors than Krejcikova in the second and third sets combined.
Pliskova, the ace leader for the season thus far (387 and counting), fired 11 of those missiles in the encounter, but she was also plagued by 12 double faults. Nevertheless, Pliskova held on for her fourth Top 10 victory of the season.
Tale of the match: Krejcikova routinely found fierce forehands to sweep through the opening set in less than half an hour. Krejcikova had eight winners to just three unforced errors in that frame, while Pliskova’s two winners in the first set were overwhelmed by 12 unforced errors.
Krejcikova had the early advantage in the second set as well, firing another forehand winner to break and lead 3-2. But after Pliskova used fantastic forehands of her own to grit out a tense six-deuce service hold and stay close at 4-3, the match turned.
Krejcikova dropped serve for the first time in the very next game, in which she hit three double faults, putting Pliskova back at level footing at 4-4. A volley miscue by Krejcikova at 15-30 in the game after that gave Pliskova a lifeline to a hold for 5-4.
Two more double faults by Krejcikova in the subsequent game, including on set point, allowed Pliskova to claim a fourth straight game and the second set.
Pliskova had now firmly pulled herself into the match, and the Czechs went toe-to-toe in a closely-contested decider. Pliskova’s powerful serves and pinpoint forehands helped her fend off break points at 2-2 and 4-4, keeping her ahead on the scoreboard.
The grit paid off at 5-4, where miscues by Krejcikova suddenly gave Pliskova triple match point. On the third chance, Krejcikova went long once more, and Pliskova had completed her comeback.