MELBOURNE, Australia - No.5 seed Karolina Pliskova narrowly avoided becoming the latest big-name casualty at this year's Australian Open after prevailing over Jelena Ostapenko in a Saturday-night thriller.
Ostapenko twice served for the match but was unable to find the knockout blow as Pliskova hit back to win an epic encounter, 4-6, 6-0, 10-8.
"I think I was a little bit lucky in the third set - she was playing very well today, she was maybe better," Pliskova said. "But I'm very happy to be in the fourth round of the Australian for the first time in my life."
Pliskova's final stats:
74% 1st serves in
? WTA Insider (@WTA_insider) January 21, 2017
Pliskova entered the tournament in a rich vein of form, after winning the Brisbane International, and her performances in the opening two rounds at Melbourne Park further underlined her championship credentials.
Against Ostapenko, though, it was immediately apparent that this smooth passage through the draw was about to enter choppy waters. The young Latvian set about her task with relish, and was rewarded for this positive approach in the ninth game, a pair of smart backhand winners giving the break. Serving at 5-4 there were no sign of nerves as she closed in on the net to punch away her first set point.
This setback roused Pliskova into life, hitting back to dominate a second set in which she struck 11 winners and only one unforced error. The momentum swung again in the third, Ostapenko producing a stream of punishing groundstrokes to move 5-2 ahead.
But as the finishing line approached, her carefree approach vanished. Pliskova attacked, and was rewarded with a run of four straight games. Now it was Ostapenko on the precipice, and to the delight of an increasingly animated crowd she responded by firing a brilliant forehand down the line to fend off a match point, finally levelling at 6-6.
Pliskova continued to pile on the pressure, briskly holding serve to test the youngsters resolve. Serving at 10-9 down, she cracked, firing a wild forehand to hand Pliskova two more match points. She only needed one, forcing the error to set up a fourth-round showdown with marathon woman Daria Gavrilova.
While Pliskova was duking it out on the Margaret Court Arena, Gavrilova was putting the home crowd through another emotional rollercoaster on Rod Laver, eventually defeating Timea Bacsinszky, 6-3, 5-7, 6-4.
"It feels awesome," Gavrilova said. "What can I say? I'm just exhausted and very happy. I'm pretty tired right now. It was a very tough match. To be honest, I expected it. Yeah, I feel relieved.
"I think I'm the type of player that just has to work for every point, so I guess I'm used to it now."