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By Richard Pagliaro | Friday, November 1, 2019

 
Karolina Pliskova

"I'm just happy that I was able to fight through, never stop fighting and believing and I did it," said Karolina Pliskova after battling into the WTA Finals final four.

Photo credit: WTA Finals Shenzhen Facebook

A tense tug-of-war spiked with suspense and a trip to the semifinals on the line.

Karolina Pliskova pulled off a net-cord winner to end a thriller.

More: Svitolina Subdues Kenin

On match point, Pliskova's drive volley collided with the top of the tape and dripped over capping a crazy 6-0, 2-6, 6-4 victory over Simona Halep sending the Czech into her third straight WTA Finals final four.

"We have so many good matches—every time it's kind of close," Pliskova told Andrew Krasny afterward. "I know she has a better record against me, but I was kind of positive. I played some good matches here, some good tennis."




It was a match of wild momentum shifts and vivid shot-making.

Powering through a shutout opening set that saw her produce near-flawless tennis, Pliskova was left reeling when Halep flew through five straight games to go up a break in the final set.

As Romanian fans chanted Halep's name in unison, Pliskova pressed the mute button with a five-game tear of her own only to see Halep break back for 4-5. Pliskova punched the drive volley off the tape earning her fourth win in 11 meetings vs. the Wimbledon champion.

"Today was a little bit tricky," Pliskova said. "I was up a set and then down a set and a break. I'm just happy that I was able to fight through, never stop fighting and believing and I did it. A little bit luck in the end, but I'm happy for that."

The fortunate bounce sets up a marquee semifinal between world No. 2 Pliskova and world No. 1 Ashleigh Barty, who won the Red Group in her WTA Finals debut.

The other semifinal pits defending champion Elina Svitolina riding an eight-match WTA Finals winning streak against seventh-seeded Swiss Belinda Bencic

The Barty-Pliskova semifinal is a rematch of the Miami Open final, which Barty won 7-6(1), 6-3. Afterward, Pliskova told Tennis Now the Aussie's slice backhand was the best she's seen on tour since Robert Vinci.

"We played so many good matches and she's having a great year so it's gonna be super tough," Pliskova said of facing Barty, who has won three of their five meetings. "I think she played some good tennis here. I was watching, a little bit, her group.

"So of course it's gonna be a big challenge for me. I have nothing to lose. She's first and I'm second so she's the one who has to win so I'm just gonna enjoy."

Exuding easy power, Pliskova pumped a backhand down the line dispensing a first-set bagel in just 20 minutes pounding out 11 winners.

Tossing in a pair of double faults, including one on break point, Pliskova gifted the break to start the second set. Halep dodged break point to back up the break.

It was a temporary reprieve.

Pliskova punished the ball hitting through one of the quickest players on tour with remarkable ease charging through eight straight points with a love break to level.

On her heels, Halep flipped the script, streaked forward and bumped a stretched forehand volley to break again for 3-2. Dialing up the depth of her drives, Halep drilled successive backhand winners down the line scoring her third break of the set at 15 for 5-2.




Pacing behind the baseline between points as if plotting out the next point in her head, Halep fended off three break points. The two-time Grand Slam champion rapped her signature shot, the backhand down the line, for set point and flashed an ace to close the second set.

Despite serving 77 percent in the second set, Pliskova found herself forced to a decider against a major champion who seemed to have all the momentum.

The resurgent Romanian drove a backhand return down the line that dabbed the edge of the sideline breaking for the third time in a row to open the final set.

A reeling Pliskova wasn't moving with quite the same purpose nor was she pounding the balls her opponent sent down the middle with the same vigor she showed in set one.

Dragging a backhand error, Halep won her sixth straight game confirming the break for 2-0.

Pliskova halted her slide and began finding her groove again breaking at love to level. To that point, Halep was winning most of the longer points, but Pliskova ended a lengthy exchange scorching a backhand winner down the line and followed firing a forehand down the opposite sideline for 3-2.




Coach Darren Cahill returned with a spirited motivational talk to Halep.

"You're gonna finish with full energy and full focus," Cahill said. "You have a choice here. Now you're going to define yourself as an athlete and a competitor. If you're prepared to do it, you can do it."

Still, Pliskova's power was negating Halep's court coverage. Striking in rhythm, Pliskova rolled through her second love break for 4-2.

Halep wasn't done. Romanian fans chanted her name and Halep responded with her first love hold.

Serving for the semifinals, Pliskova stumbled as the Wimbledon champion broke back for 4-5.

On this day, Pliskova would not be denied. She broke back with that favorable net cord drive to earn a fierce one hour, 43-minute victory.


 

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