KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia - The Pliskova twins have been talked about for a long time, doing so well in the juniors and already making waves together in the pros in doubles - but one of them made a very big breakthrough on Sunday, as Karolina Pliskova won her first WTA title at the BMW Malaysian Open.
Pliskova stormed through her first four rounds in straight sets, including a particularly resonant win in the semifinals, beating No.4 seed Ayumi Morita, 60 62 - having never been beyond the quarterfinals of a WTA event before, she was treading new ground, but needless to say, the Czech meant business.
On the other half of the draw, there was a revival going on. Bethanie Mattek-Sands went as high as No.30 in the world in the summer of 2011, but since then had battled hip, back and foot injuries - her ranking fell as low as No.243 last summer, and she came into KL as a No.197-ranked wildcard.
But Mattek-Sands turned the clock back, outdoing three seeds in her first four rounds - including No.2 seed and defending champion Hsieh Su-Wei in the quarterfinals and then No.3 seed Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova in the semifinals - and after all of that she found herself in her fourth WTA final.
"I always believed I could do well again, it was just a matter of going on the court and doing it," Mattek-Sands said. "Sticking to my game plan and being aggressive has really helped. I've been using my serve really well and attacking returns, and my game is definitely going in the right direction.
"Wins always help your confidence, but you have to get the confidence before you get the wins - even in some of my losses this year I was playing well, and you can't let the losses get to you too much."
"It has been a bit of a surprise to play so well this week, and it's a very good feeling to reach my first WTA final," Pliskova said after her semifinal match Saturday. "I played Bethanie once before and lost, but it was a close match, and I'll just keep trying to play the game I've been playing all week."
The two took Centre Court on Sunday and it was a photo finish: Mattek-Sands looked headed for victory as she raced through the first set in just 23 minutes, 6-1; but Pliskova's huge serve started hitting its mark in the second set and after the two traded holds for 11 games Pliskova finally broke to take the set, 7-5. The Czech broke one more time midway through the third set and won, 16 75 63.
Pliskova not only comes away with her first WTA title, she also breaks into the Top 100 for the first time with this result, rising from No.127 to No.84, soaring past her previous career-high of No.107.
Mattek-Sands may not have come away with the title, and she may be 0-4 in WTA finals now, but that ranking will change, big time - she rises from No.197 to No.132 as a result of her run to the final.
And the American's semifinal victim - Pavlyuchenkova - thinks she could go much higher. "I was really impressed with the way Bethanie was playing," she said after their match. "She was really on fire. If Bethanie carries on playing like that her ranking can definitely get back to the Top 30 or Top 20."
The doubles final was even more dramatic, with No.2 seeds Shuko Aoyama and Chang Kai-Chen grinding out a two-hour, 13-minute, 67(4) 76(4) 1412 victory over No.1 seeds Janette Husarova and Zhang Shuai for the title. Aoyama and Chang were down a set and 4-1, and saved a match point too.
Aoyama and Chang now have two WTA doubles titles together, having won Washington DC last year. Those are Aoyama's only two WTA doubles titles - Chang has four total, two with other players.