WUHAN, China -- Ashleigh Barty staged a massive comeback from a set down en route to a scintillating 4-6, 7-6(3), 7-6(2) victory over No.3 seed Karolina Pliskova on Thursday at the Dongfeng Motor Wuhan Open, clinching her first-ever win over a Top 5 player on her seventh attempt.
"I’ve played Karolina a couple of times now, and it’s been very close every time," Barty said in her on-court post-match interview. "I'm happy to come through with the win today, I feel like we both played pretty good."
Indeed, the previous encounters between Pliskova and Barty -- both of which occurred on the grass courts of Nottingham -- portended a tight match here. Barty, of Australia, won their first match in a final-set tiebreak way back in 2012, while the Czech Pliskova eked out a win last year in two tiebreak sets.
This match was no exception, going the distance in a two-and-a-half-hour match which featured hard hitting and superb serving from both combatants. This time, it was Barty who emerged the victor, claiming her third consecutive Top 15 win, after ousting No.5 seed Johanna Konta and No.9 seed Agnieszka Radwanska in the previous rounds.
Barty continued by stating that the key to the match was "looking out for my service games. It was going to be tough to make inroads on her service games, and I think in the second and third set I returned much better and gave myself an opportunity to get into those games."
Both players had a clean first set until Barty's service game at 4-4, where a minor slip gave Pliskova the first break point of the match. A powerful forehand by the Czech forced an error from Barty, which gave her the early lead.
That would be the only break point of the set, as Pliskova served out the set at love to clinch the one-set advantage. Barty had eight winners and only four unforced errors, but she could not get a sniff on Pliskova's serve, which was airtight in the opener.
The players were nearly as reliable on serve in the second set. At 6-5, though, Barty got her first break points of the match, which doubled as set points. But big hitting by Pliskova powered her through the game, and the tiebreak followed as anticipated.
At 3-3 in the tiebreak, Barty chipped a service return and snuck in behind it, and Pliskova pushed the next groundstroke long to hand the Australian a pivotal mini-break. From there, Barty ran out the next three points, culminating with an ace and a crosscourt forehand winner, to seal the tiebreak and push the match into a deciding set.
"I felt like I was close," said Pliskova in her post-match press conference. "I felt like I can play the tiebreak better. Both tiebreaks I think she played just very well."
A frustrated Pliskova quickly gave up her service in the opening game of the third set, and it appeared that Barty would race through the decider for a shocking victory. But Pliskova leveled the set at 3-3 when a Barty backhand went wide, and the match was dead even once again.
However, Pliskova was shockingly broken at love just as she had claimed level footing, and once again Barty found herself up a break. Two games later, the World No.37 found herself serving at 5-4 with triple match point, and the end was in sight.
But a forehand winner by Pliskova saved the first match point, and then two unforced errors by the nervous Barty set the game back to deuce. A lovely forehand service return gave Pliskova a break point to even the set at 5-5, which she converted when another solid forehand forced an error from Barty.
The third set advanced to a final tiebreak, and Barty steeled her nerves to race to a 5-2 lead, mainly due to some exceptional forehand winners. A crosscourt forehand error by Pliskova gave Barty four more match points, and the Australian did not have to stress about any of those, as Pliskova double faulted immediately to give Barty her career-best win.
"I think she was playing just little bit better today," concluded Pliskova. "Even though was, like, really close, one or two points, but I think she was just more aggressive. In the end of the sets, she was just going for her shots, which I was not able to make because in tiebreaks I didn't hit any first serves."
Barty will take on one of this year’s Grand Slam champions in the semifinals: either World No.1 and Wimbledon champion Garbiñe Muguruza, or No.8 seed and French Open titlist Jelena Ostapenko. Regardless of that result, Barty will make her Top 30 debut when Wuhan is complete, after starting the year outside the Top 200.
"It’s been an amazing season, it really has," said Barty. "I was very motivated and worked very hard last year to get back to where we are now."