ROME, Italy - No.4 seed Karolina Pliskova was made to work in her third-round match on a busy day of tennis in Rome, ralling back from a set and a break down against Sofia Kenin to move on at the Internazionali BNL d’Italia.
"I was struggling a little bit in the first set with my focus and my tennis," Pliskova told the press, after the win. "I started to play better and was focused on my serve and not what was happening around [the grounds], and I think I played fine."
"I think it was getting better each game," the Czech continued. "I think I just brought the level a little bit more up, and that’s why I won."
Kenin was playing her second match of the day after yesterday’s ‘total washout’ forced players to do double duty to make up for lost time. The American defeated Charleston champion Madison Keys, the No.13 seed, 6-7(2), 6-3, 6-4 earlier in the day in a two-and-a-half hour marathon to advance
She had to make a quick turnaround to face Pliskova just a few hours later, who only had one match to play today. The signs of possible fatigue showed as the match went into a third set, and Pliskova raised her level accordingly to win 4-6, 6-4, 6-3.
Kenin hadn’t taken a set off of Pliskova in their two previous meetings - both at the US Open, in 2016 and 2018 - but at the Foro Italico there was a first time for everything.
Pliskova’s booming serve was firing on all cylinders, hitting three aces in her first two service games alone. But Kenin was undaunted by the firepower coming from the other side of the net, covering the court and attacking any second serves to earn the first break of the match at 2-1.
But it all almost got away from her as Pliskova came roaring back, reeling off three games in a row to get the break straight back and go up 4-2. Kenin was right back on the attack, taking balls early and rattled off four games in a row of her own to snatch away the opening set, 6-4.
She started the second set with a break to lead 1-0, but once Pliskova got going that would be her last lead of the match. The Czech’s first serve percentage, which had hovered below 50% in the first set, rose to 57% - winning 94% of the points - and effectively kept Kenin out of the rallies. Pliskova earned the break back at 2-2 and ran away with the set, breaking late to claim it 6-4.
Just one break of serve made the difference for Pliskova in the final set. With her ace count ticking into the double digits - she would end the match with 12 - Pliskova earned the decisive break at 3-1 and dodged a break point to put an end to the contest after an hour and 54 minutes on court.
The win puts Pliskova through to her second career quarterfinal in Rome, where she’s set to face Victoria Azarenka for a spot in the semifinals.
Pliskova trails the former Grand Slam champion 4-3 in the pair’s head-to-head record, with their most recent meeting coming a few weeks ago on the indoor red clay of Stuttgart. It was Azarenka who emerged victorious, defeating the defending champion Pliskova 4-6, 6-3, 6-4.
"[Azarenka and I] played a lot of matches, a lot of times I won, a lot of times she beat me too," said Pliskova. "For me, she’s improving, from what I’ve seen of a couple of her matches now. She’s just beating also the good players, and for me, she’s maybe closer to the level that she was before."