MIAMI, FL, USA -- No.5 seed Karolina Pliskova of the Czech Republic continued her stellar year on Thursday night, overcoming multiple rain delays and No.2 seed Simona Halep to defeat the Romanian 7-5, 6-1, and advance to the Miami Open final for the first time.
"I think I played great the second set," Pliskova said to the media, in her post-match press conference. "Of course I think [Halep] could maybe do a little bit better. Maybe she was of course frustrated about the first set where it didn't really go her way. I played some good shots, and it turned after the break. But, yeah, that's how it is, and I'm happy with my level."
Pliskova has made at least the quarterfinals of every WTA event she has played this year, compiling a WTA-leading 21 match wins at Tour level. The Czech will now attempt to claim her second title of the season (following Brisbane) after defying a 2-7 head-to-head record against Halep and ousting the reigning French Open champion after just an hour and 13 minutes of play.
"Of course the confidence, it helps so much," said Pliskova. "You know, when you win couple matches, then you just see the ball, you know, without even practicing or without even thinking about it. So I think it all is because of the matches."
Powerful Pliskova got 71 percent of her fearsome first serves into play, winning 75 percent of those points. She fired 23 winners to only 16 unforced errors, while the usually reliable Halep ground game gave up 20 unforced errors to just 14 winners. Pliskova came back from a break down in the first set to close out the match in straights, breaking the Halep serve five times during the encounter.
To earn the Premier Mandatory title, Pliskova will have to get past No.12 seed Ashleigh Barty in the final, as the Australian reached the biggest final of her career with a straight-set victory over No.21 seed Anett Kontaveit in Thursday's earlier semifinal. Pliskova and Barty have split their four prior encounters.
"I think [Barty] has a completely different style than these girls which I played," Pliskova admitted. "She's also trying to go for some winners. She has a slice backhand, she has a good serve, so she can move pretty well on the court, so she understands the game well, I think.
"So it's going to be not only about me this time, which actually now a lot of matches were about me more. So I need to accept when she's playing well, and I know I can beat her."
After staving off two break points to hold for 2-2, Halep claimed the initial service break of the match, when she blasted a backhand winner down the line to take Pliskova’s serve at love and lead 3-2. But the Czech quickly struck back, as Halep’s forehand went awry a couple of times to allow Pliskova to pull back level at 3-3.
Suddenly, in the middle of the 15-30 point in the next game, rain came to Miami once again during this precipitation-plagued Friday. With the weather changing in the middle of the rally, Pliskova fired a miscue wide, sending her off to the locker room facing another break point.
After 58-minute rain delay, the players returned to the court, and Pliskova promptly opened the resumption with a double fault, immediately giving Halep the break lead again. The Romanian consolidated for 5-3, seemingly in control post-delay.
But when she served for the set at 5-4, Halep faltered, dropping serve at love by ending the game with three straight errors, including a double fault. Pliskova, back level and with new life, held to lead 6-5 and put more pressure on Halep.
Serving to stay in the set, Halep squandered a 40-15 lead with two more errors and a double fault, and on set point, Pliskova won a tremendous rally complete with divine angles to clinch her fourth straight game and eke the one-set lead out from under Halep’s nose.
Pliskova carried her momentum into the second set, slamming a forehand winner to break for 2-0, then holding at love for 3-0, ending the game with an ace. Pliskova earned a second break and reached 5-0, having won nine consecutive games. But then, shockingly, the rain came back, causing yet another delay, this one lasting over an hour.
The players came back on the court after 1:00 a.m., and Halep did well to hold easily and stop the run of games by Pliskova. But it only put off the inevitable for one game, as Pliskova held with ease herself, clinching her spot in the Miami final.