Pliskova survives Osaka onslaught

IN A contest that far surpassed its second round standing, two genuine stars of the past decade went head-to-head at the Brisbane International today. Czech Republic’s Karolina Pliskova with 16 WTA Tour titles to her name, faced off against the returning multiple Grand Slam champion, Naomi Osaka.

In just her second match back from a 14-month layoff that included giving birth to her daughter Shai, Osaka looked every bit a major contender, taking it up to the current world number 39 and fellow former world number one. However for all the power and grace that Osaka has, Pliskova, having had more minutes behind her over the past 12 months, proved that touch better.

The match lasted two hours and 15 minutes before Pliskova could finally relax, with both players combining for 30 aces in the game. Pliskova marginally shaded Osaka in that regard (16-14), but was also wayward at times (11 double faults to two) keeping her opponent in the game.

Both players served at a ridiculously high clip of 65 per cent and above, with elite 80 per cent plus success rate off each of their first serves. But when it was all said and done, despite Osaka winning the first set and taking the second set to a tiebreaker, Pliskova never gave in, dug deep and came out the other side with a 3-6 7-6 6-4 victory.

A three-time Brisbane International champion, Pliskova will have to earn her fourth in a stacked field, and she was pleased – for the most part – with how she played. The Czech said her ability to focus in key moments was crucial in the win.

“Of course, we played for a while,” Pliskova said. “And I mean you can practise as much as you want but matches are always a little bit different.

“I felt like the one game I lost a little bit of focus on my serve, but I really wanted to finish it and not stay here (on court) much longer.”

Elsewhere, top seed Aryna Sabalenka cruised past another Italian in Lucia Bronzetti to reach the third round, while Russian Daria Kasatkina took care of Ukrainian Marta Kostyuk in straight sets, 6-3 6-4. The huge upset of the day was Argentinian qualifier Julia Riera shocking seventh seed Ekaterina Alexandrova to reach the third round.

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