TIANJIN, China -- Top seed Karolina Pliskova of the Czech Republic moved through to the semifinals of the Tianjin Open on Friday after outlasting Katie Boulter of Great Britain, 5-7, 6-0, 6-3, helping the Czech's chances to grab one of the final remaining spots at the BNP Paribas WTA Finals Singapore presented by SC Global.
"After those two matches which [Boulter] won, I think she was feeling pretty good," Pliskova said, following the match. "But I, a little bit, put on the speed in the second and third set, and it was enough."
In the first meeting between 26-year-old Pliskova and 22-year-old Boulter, the Czech sandwiched a bagel between two challenging sets, and had to come back from a break down in the decider to claim victory after a tough two hours and seven minutes of play.
"[In the second set,] I started with a quick break, which always helps a little bit, and I improved my serve a little bit, because I was struggling in the first set with my first serve," Pliskova said. "That was the key. I did some aces, and I played more aggressive, I thought, and she didn’t have time much to play her game, and that was the difference."
Former World No.1 Pliskova is known for her strong serving, but it was her return game which came through in the clutch to get her through the encounter, converting nine of 17 break points to move past the Brit. Boulter acquitted herself well in her first-ever match against a Top 10 opponent, but ultimately could only win 46 percent of points on both her serve and her return.
Pliskova finally added points to her Porsche Race to Singapore total this week by reaching the semifinals, and the win has increased her slim lead over Kiki Bertens for the No.8 position in the Race, which was also bolstered by Bertens' narrow loss to Margarita Gasparyan in Linz on Thursday.
Pliskova, the current World No.6, moves into the semifinals, where she awaits the winner of the quarterfinal clash between No.4 seed Aryna Sabalenka of Belarus and former Top 10 player Timea Bacsinszky of Switzerland.
World No.101 Boulter took the early lead in the match, dominating with her forehand to break Pliskova in the Czech’s opening service game for a 2-0 advantage. But Pliskova got back on serve in the very next game, breaking back after a rally on break point ended with a wide Boulter forehand.
A number of routine service holds ensued before Pliskova attained another service break to lead 5-4. But the Czech became embroiled in a difficult game while serving for the set, fending off four break points. Boulter claimed a fifth chance to break, and converted it with a clean backhand winner, leveling the set at 5-5.
Boulter refused to let Pliskova take another lead in the set, fending off two break points, the second with a brave passing winner down the line, to hold for 6-5. The Brit then used a dropshot and another down-the-line forehand to erase a 40-15 Pliskova advantage in the following game and claw back to deuce. Boulter then converted a second break point to win her third straight game and clinch the opening set.
Pliskova, however, quickly took total command of the second set. The hard-hitting Czech broke Boulter in the first game and then opened up a 3-0, double-break lead after the Brit double faulted on break point.
More powerful serving and groundstrokes got Pliskova past two break points en route to a hold for 4-0, and she cruised through the remainder of the second set from there, grabbing the bagel after Boulter slammed a service return into the net on the top seed’s first set point.
Boulter opened the deciding set just like she had the opening set, taking Pliskova’s first service game with strong hitting from the forehand side to open up a 2-0 lead. But, again, Pliskova broke straight back after a Boulter backhand error.
After an exchange of breaks led to a 3-3 deadlock, Pliskova finally obtained the decisive break at 4-3, and the Czech never looked back. Down 3-5, Boulter served two double faults to queue up triple match point. The Brit saved the first with a forehand winner, but Pliskova slammed a big service return to force a wide backhand, earning another service break for the win.