ROME, Italy -- Greece's Maria Sakkari claimed the first Top 5 win of her career with a stunning 3-6, 6-3, 7-5 upset of No.6 seed Karolina Pliskova of the Czech Republic, to advance to the third round of the Internazionali BNL d'Italia on Wednesday.
"We’ve never played each other, we’ve never practiced, I didn’t know her game, so it took me a little bit of time until I got into the rhythm," Sakkari told the press, following the encounter. "At the end of the first set, I started feeling and understanding how I have to play against her, so that’s why I came up in the second and third set."
Sakkari moved past the former World No.1 in a contentious two-hour and 21-minute barnburner, breaking Pliskova's eight-match streak of three-set victories this season. The Greek player had 14 break points in the match, breaking the vaunted Pliskova serve six times. Pliskova had 41 unforced errors in the match, more than her 32 winners.
"She plays extremely fast, so you don’t have a lot of time, and she has incredible contact with the ball, and a great serve," said Sakkari. "She’s an amazing player, she has been No.1, she’s extremely good."
"I see it as a good win, and I’m moving onto the next one," Sakkari continued. She moves into the third round, where she will face the winner of the second-round match between No.11 seed Angelique Kerber of Germany and Romania’s Irina-Camelia Begu.
Pliskova started the match blasting Sakkari off the court, racing to a 5-1 lead which culminated with a break at love off of a service return winner. Serving for the opening set, the Czech twice reached set point, but it was here that Sakkari started to impose herself on the match, claiming one break back after errors from Pliskova.
After holding for 5-3, Sakkari grasped three break points in the following game, in a bid to get back on serve in the opening frame. But Pliskova held her nerve, and took the first set on her fourth set point. The players both had 14 unforced errors in the set, but Pliskova matched those with 14 winners, while Sakkari could only muster up nine.
Sakkari’s comeback began in earnest in the second set, breaking Pliskova in a lengthy game to take an initial 2-0 lead. Backhand errors from the Greek allowed Pliskova to get back on serve at 3-2, but the World No.42 continued to excel, holding at love to eke out a 4-3 lead.
The huge opportunity for Sakkari came in that game, when she converted a break point to lead 5-3 after Pliskova hit a backhand miscue into the net. In the next game, Sakkari quickly raced to triple set point, and though she lost one with a double fault, a strong serve which was not returned let her level the match at one set apiece.
The players advanced to a topsy-turvy deciding set, which was not settled until deep in the contest, and not without controversy. Pliskova, reeling from the loss of the second set, quickly dropped serve at love to give Sakkari an immediate 1-0 lead. But the Czech leveled the match at 1-1, breaking Sakkari with a stunning backhand winner down the line.
Sakkari swiftly went up a break again at 2-1, but Pliskova tied up the set three games later, pulling to 3-3 after converting a break point with a solid overhead. Pliskova then held easily in her next two service games, while Sakkari struggled through protracted games on her delivery, but there were no additional breaks up to 5-5.
Pliskova then became mired in a long service game, failing to convert three game points en route to a third deuce. At that juncture, a Pliskova overhead was called wide on the right sideline, and the Czech vehemently disagreed with that call. After a prolonged conversation with the chair umpire and the supervisor, Pliskova had to face break point. A forehand error into the net gave Sakkari the pivotal 6-5 lead.
Serving for the match, Sakkari took control over an infuriated Pliskova, hitting a wily backhand drop shot to get to double match point. On the following point, Sakkari slammed a forehand winner down the line to clinch her first career win over a Top 5 player, and move into the third round in Rome.