Pliskova rallies, will face Sakkari in semis

Karolina Pliskova came back from a set down to defeat Victoria Azarenka in the quarter-finals at the Internazionali BNL d’Italia on Friday.

The Czech No. 4 seed needed two hours 26 minutes to record a 6-7(5) 6-2 6-2 victory over the former world No. 1 and book a spot in the Italian Open semi-finals for the first time.

Pliskova looked to be cruising to the first set when she held a 4-1 advantage but Azarenka had other ideas. The Belarusian found her range on her groundstrokes, reducing her unforced error count in the process and found a way back into the match. She broke back for 3-4 – the first of three straight breaks – and continued to improve as a tiebreak loomed.

The 2013 Italian Open finalist found herself 3-1 down in the tiebreak and showed more of her fighting qualities as she battled back into contention, recording five winners on her way to a 6-5 lead and clinching the set when Pliskova double faulted.

It was Azarenka’s turn to double fault in the opening game of the second set, two of them helping Pliskova to an early break. The world No. 51 had to fend off two more break points in the third game but had a chance of her own on her opponent’s serve in the very next game as the competitive service games continued. She couldn’t capitalise however and a second break for Pliskova for 5-2 put the second set out of reach for the wildcard.

The third set followed a similar pattern as the second. A pair of double faults handed Pliskova an early break advantage and some impressive serving helped keep the Czech player out of trouble as her opponent tired. A second break at the end of the set sealed Azarenka’s fate and gave Pliskova her 500th match-win.

“I saw the first set was obviously quite close, but I think I could do better. I think I could just go more for better shots from my side, of course. I think she was solid. She was playing good tennis today. I think she can also miss more than she did today,” said Pliskova.

“It was a little bit windy so I didn’t feel the best in the first set. Anyway, I don’t think the level was just that bad. I think I was too passive. First of all, I wanted to kill myself after that set, but then little bit calm down and went for it little bit more, which paid off.”

“That’s why the two sets, I don’t think it was easy, because the score looked quite easy. I just had many chances, more chance than in the first. Also on the returns, I just went for it more. My serve was better actually, and that’s why it end this way.”

Pliskova’s semi-final opponent will be qualifier Maria Sakkari who also bounced back from losing the first set to win her quarter-final match against fellow qualifier Kristina Mladenovic. Sakkari is the first qualifier to reach the last four here since Daria Gavrilova in 2015.

“Just sat down after I won the second set. I was like, Now it’s your time, now it’s time to do what you have to do. Just went after my shots. Trusted myself. I think I did pretty well,” said Sakkari.