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By Richard Pagliaro | Friday, January 24, 2020

Karolina Pliskova

Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova topped second-ranked Karolina Pliskova for the first time 7-6, 7-6 advancing to an AO fourth-round clash vs. 2016 champion Angelique Kerber.

Photo credit: Mark Peterson/Corleve

Major role reversals continue to upstage top Australian Open leading ladies.

Winless in six prior meetings with Karolina Pliskova, Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova surprised the second-ranked Czech 7-6 (4), 7-6 (3) advancing to the Australian Open fourth round for the third time in the last four years.

More: Federer Fights Through AO Epic

In a clash of former Australian Open junior champions, Pavlyuchenkova beat Pliskova to the punch in baseline exchanges hammering 51 winners compared to 35 for the second seed and fought off a pair of set points serving at 5-6 in the second set. 

"It was a lot of fun," Pavlyuchenkova said. "I even sometimes got goose bumps at some point so it was really nice. Also to get a win and beat Karolina for the first time it's amazing."

The 30th-seeded Pavlyuchenkova snapped Pliskova's six-match winning streak setting up a fourth-round meeting vs. 2016 champion Angelique Kerber. 

No. 17 seeded Kerber converted five of six break points grinding down Camilia Giorgi 6-2, 6-7(4), 6-3 to reach the Melbourne fourth round for the seventh time. 

The Russian's response to failure was a key component to her first win over Pliskova.

Despite serving up 11 double faults and converting just two of 15 break-point chances, Pavlyuchenkova shrugged off every adversity and just kept cracking away in baseline rallies. 

"Honestly I was trying to think if I take one or two games on her serve would be amazing," Pavlyuchenkova said. "Because she serves so good, she's the ace queen on tour. So that was my goal was to return well today and I think I managed. And also hold my serve, which was good."

Widely regarded as one of the best players yet to raise a Grand Slam title, Pliskova was bidding to become the first woman to win Brisbane and Melbourne back to back.

The day after 23-time Grand Slam champion was stunned by Wang Qiang and defending AO champion Naomi Osaka was dethroned in emphatic fashion by 15-year-old Coco Gauff, Pliskova took the court as the clear favorite in the bottom half of the draw.

Major opportunity manifested itself in tight times for Pliskova.  The 2019 semifinalist was tested in a 30-point opening game that spanned nearly 18 minutes as Pavlyuchenkova sent a clear message from the start.

On this day nothing would come easy.

Taking a 2-0 lead in the first-set tie breaker, Pliskova found herself on her heels as Pavlyuchenkova scalded three winners running off four points in a row.

A drop shot drew the Czech forward setting up Pavlyuchenkova's forehand pass down the line for 5-4. When Pliskova dragged a forehand into net, Pavlyuchenkova had a one-set lead after one hour, 15 minutes.

Both women survived stress tests to force the second-set tie breaker.

In the 11th game, Pliskova stood tall fending off break points with some timely first serves navigating a 13-minute hold for 6-5. By then, Pliskova had denied 13 of 15 break points.

The pair raised the stakes in the following game that saw Pliskova earn a pair of set points.

Tennis Express

A focused Pavlyuchenkova pumped two aces earning a game point but clanked a pair of nervy double faults to face set point.

The Russian rapped a forehand winner to save it only to cough up her third double fault of the game and 11th of the match for another set point. A forehand winner erased it then an adrenalized Pavlyuchenkova popped another ace to force the second-set tie break.

Working with coach Sam Sumyk, Pavlyuchenkova has tried to stay positive and aggressive under pressure. She did exactly that curling a crosscourt forehand for 4-2 and following snaking a serve winner down the T for 5-2.

A casual Pliskova thought the Russian's return was going out only to see the ball fall in and though Pliskova shoveled back a shot Pavlyuchenkova swarmed on a forehand for match point.

On final forehand error ended a two hour, 25-minute victory.


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