MELBOURNE, Australia - No.7 seed Karolina Pliskova came through a hard-hitting seesaw battle against Camila Giorgi to move into the fourth round of the Australian Open, weathering the No.27 seed's storm to come through a 6-4, 3-6, 6-2 winner in two hours and 11 minutes.
It was Pliskova's fifth win in six encounters with Giorgi, and the Czech has now won all three of their three-set tilts following victories in the 2014 Linz final and the 2017 Cincinnati third round. The 26-year-old also extended her winning streak to eight following a title run in Brisbane to kick off 2019; she is one of three players who remain unbeaten this year, alongside Serena Williams and Madison Keys.
"It's giving me special confidence," Pliskova said of her winning run. "If you are winning matches, doesn't matter how you win or how you play, just... that you are winning those matches, close matches. It's not always going to be like 6-1, 6-2. Some players are difficult for me. Sometimes I just have some ups and downs."
The ups and downs would mostly come from the other side of the net today, though. Giorgi's audacious game style frequently drew gasps from the Rod Laver Arena crowd as she tallied 43 no-holds-barred winners today, but her form in the first set rose and fell while a rock-solid Pliskova's level would be a straight line with no dips. In the initial stages of the match, it was the Italian controlling the match off the ground, with clutch serving bailing the former World No.1 out - but in the fifth game, Giorgi controlled it into a tree, coughing up her serve with two backhand errors and two double faults.
Though some magnificent defensive play from Pliskova in the seventh game made for the set's most exciting stretch of play, it wasn't quite enough to nab her the double break she had sought - but no matter. Winning 72% of her first serves and 88% of her second, the 2016 US Open runner-up rode her single break to take the first set regardless.
Giorgi, who finished last season at a career high ranking of World No.26, turned matters around with aplomb in the second set. Roaring out of the gates, a purple patch of shotmaking in which the Linz champion's backhand, in particular, was able to fire winners from every part of the court saw her capture 12 of the first 15 points and a 3-0 lead.
Holding that lead was not as simple: during a stretch of four consecutive breaks, the 27-year-old oscillated between more breathtaking winners and wild mistakes off the simplest of sitters. But serving for the set at 5-3, she was able to find the balance in her tightrope walk strategy, saving one break point en route to slamming down an unreturnable serve to convert her third set point - and seal a set in which she had struck 21 winners to 16 unforced errors.
"It's not always about me," admitted Pliskova afterwards. "There's not many, I think, playing as fast as she is." Used to being the aggressor, the World No.8 accepted that in this match her strategy was to "be patient to wait for her mistakes".
As Pliskova explained: "I knew it's going to be parts where she's playing amazing, then parts where she can miss pretty much everything, too. She didn't give me much today, I think. She gave few points, but here and there, not very important points."
The pivotal tightrope walk in the deciding set would come in the third game on Giorgi's serve. Over a titanic six-deuce mini-battle, the Wimbledon quarterfinalist once again veered between spectacular highs - a pair of swashbuckling net rushes, one featuring some stunning reflexes - and inexplicable lows - a smash bashed beyond the baseline, sudden errant backhands. It was one of the latter that sealed Giorgi's fate, the ball skidding into the net on Pliskova's fourth break point to put the two-time Australian Open quarterfinalist in the driving seat.
Pliskova's serve rose to the occasion as the match reached its most crucial passage of play: her 80% first serve percentage in the decider was the highest out of the three sets, and she would concede just four points behind it. With the pressure firmly on Giorgi, the two-time WTA titlist began to hit out wildly - and though there would be more crowd-pleasing stunners to come, the balance had well and truly gone awry.
Tallying 53 unforced errors overall, Giorgi's seventh and eighth double faults as she was serving to stay in the match dug the hole even deeper - and a forehand long buried the match for good on Pliskova's fourth match point.
Afterwards, Pliskova was sanguine about the match's twists and turns. "I had chances, lots of chances, in the second set - I think I definitely could do better there," she mused. "Maybe I didn't have to play the third set - but maybe I could [have lost] the first set. It was a good match from both of us."
Having now survived consecutive three-setters, Pliskova next faces another hard-hitting test in her bid to reach a third consecutive Melbourne quarterfinal against a resurgent Garbiñe Muguruza - whom Pliskova has been eyeing this week.
"I saw she was playing quite well this week," she said. "She's a good player. She has played big matches, too. For sure is going to be tough. I have good people around me. Let's say it this way. I know how to beat her."