STUTTGART, Germany - Former World No.1 Victoria Azarenka came back from a set down to oust Stuttgart defending champion Karolina Pliskova 4-6, 6-3, 6-4 and reach the Porsche Tennis Grand Prix quarterfinals.
Last year, Pliskova made history when she became the first Czech player to lift the trophy in Stuttgart, defeating then-reigning Roland Garros champion Jelena Ostapenko and Kiki Bertens along the way. The No.4 seed continued to reach new heights in 2019, starting the season with a Premier title in Brisbane, and going on to reach the semifinals of the Australian Open and the final in Miami.
After enjoying a first-round bye, Pliskova took the court against former World No.1 and Monterrey finalist Azarenka at the Porsche Arena. The Belarusian had to battle jet-lag in her first few days in Stuttgart, having come straight from Melbourne, Australia where she played two singles and one doubles match for her country in Fed Cup.
“Jet lag goes away as if it was a magical court... yeah right!” Azarenka joked after the match. “No, no way, but the desire to play, for sure…
“It’s my job, I have to go out there and I have to play and I have to compete and do my best. That’s the approach, jet lag or no jet lag.”
The first set was decided by the most narrow of margins, with not many chances on offer for either player as they contested a high-quality clash. For many stretches of the set, it looked like Azarenka was the player in control: she dropped only four points on serve in the first nine games, and had multiple chances to break the Pliskova serve.
But despite her opponent creating break chances at 3-2 and 4-3, Pliskova didn’t panic. She batted them both away, and kept them on serve for the rest of the set. Finally, it was Azarenka that blinked first, a spate of loose errors handing Pliskova the lone break at 6-4 to take the set.
After seeing so many opportunities slip away from her in the first set, Azarenka was determined to be more decisive - and she was quickly rewarded for her efforts. After batting away early Pliskova break chances, Azarenka finally earned her first break of the match at 2-1. She kept her nose in front after a brief tug-of-war saw Pliskova break back and Azarenka break once again to reestablish her lead at 3-2. Azarenka fought off even more break points a game later - saving three in total in the set - and stayed ahead to take the second set with a final break, 6-3, and send the match into a decider.
The final sent unfolded much like the first, with both players dialed in and serving powerfully - leaving the returner with very few opportunities. For her part, Pliskova had just three chances to score a break - two at 2-1 and another at 5-4 - but the two-time Grand Slam winner across the net fought them off each time. Instead, Azarenka stayed solid and patient, and was eventually rewarded with a spate of late errors from Pliskova, breaking in the final game to claim the victory after two hours and nine minutes.
“I think the whole match was really high quality,” Azarenka said. “There was a lot of winners, a lot of good serves, a lot of aces and a lot of pressure from both sides.
“Third set was a couple of games, that I had to battle a little bit on my serve and she was putting a lot of pressure but I felt that I stayed really focused and I stayed strong and too my chances like really took those opportunities and tried to force her to do better and better on her serve, and she was serving really well. And that last game I was able to find some good returns and put pressure.”
Through to the Stuttgart quarterfinals for the third time in her career, the victory over World No.4 Pliskova is Azarenka’s first Top 5 win on clay since Rome in 2015. She’s also set to return to the WTA’s Top 50 when the new rankings are released on Monday.
Up next, Azarenka will face No.8 seed Anett Kontaveit in the quarterfinals. The Estonian took down Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova in straight sets, 6-3, 6-2, earlier in the day to advance.