MADRID, Spain - Former World No.1 and No.5 seed Karolina Pliskova pulled off an impeccable comeback at the Mutua Madrid Open, defeating rising Ukrainian teenager Dayana Yastremska, 5-7, 7-6(5), 6-3.
At just 18 years of age, Yastremska won her second career WTA title earlier this year in Hua Hin - defeating two-time Grand Slam champion Garbiñe Muguruza en route - and though she displayed stellar ball-striking throughout, Pliskova proved too strong, particularly on serve, hitting 11 aces to survive after two hours and 17 minutes on Court Arantxa Sánchez.
Pliskova was playing just her second match since reaching the Miami Open final - having taken a narrow loss to Victoria Azarenka at the Porsche Tennis Grand Prix, and pulling out of the J&T Banka Prague Open due to a viral illness - and began proceedings with an early break and some emphatic serving, losing just three points in her first three service games.
Yastremska stayed within reach and, after a timeout with coach Olivier Jeunehomme, promptly broke back on her first opportunity. The Ukrainian, who reached the third round of the Australian Open in January, saved two break points on her own serve in the 11th game and rode that momentum into one more break on the Pliskova serve to seal the first set.
Undaunted, Pliskova took another 4-2 lead in the second set - near identical to the one taken in the first - but the eighth game again proved crucial as Yastremska broke back and held to get within one game of victory.
Though she engineered four match points - several with searing return winners - Yastremska couldn't convert against the steely Pliskova, who kept the pressure on in the ensuing 11th game with two more break points.
As in the opening set, Yastremska held off Pliskova's charge, holding serve with a big serve and gutsy backhand into the open court.
Pliskova responded with an impressive hold and took a third 4-2 lead, this time in the tie-break, and for the third time, Yastremska made the improbable flip to 5-4. Two points from defeat, Pliskova steadied to take the final three points and level the match.
The deciding set went with serve for the first seven games, with Pliskova converting her second opportunity to find herself serving for a spot in the second round.
Racing out to a 40-0 lead, the three-time WTA Ace leader made it over the finish line on her third match point, flashing a wry smile and a fist pump in victory.
Up next for Pliskova will be the winner of the first round clash between 2016 Australian Open quarterfinalist Zhang Shuai and Ukrainian qualifier Kateryna Kozlova, who stunned defending champion Jelena Ostapanko in the first round of last year's French Open.