US Open 2017

Pliskova's gamble a timely rescue act

Karolina Pliskova, runner-up last year, narrowly averted the prospect of a crushing third-round defeat by Zhang Shuai, eventually winning 3-6, 7-5, 6-4 on Saturday.
Karolina Pliskova, runner-up last year, narrowly averted the prospect of a crushing third-round defeat by Zhang Shuai, eventually winning 3-6, 7-5, 6-4 on Saturday.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

Facing a match point, world No. 1 unleashes a forehand to turn tide against China's Zhang

NEW YORK • As Zhang Shuai stepped up to the baseline on Saturday, needing one good serve to knock off world No. 1 Karolina Pliskova, she did so with previous experience.

In 2009, when she was ranked 226th, Zhang defeated then top-ranked Dinara Safina, in a shocking upset at the China Open in Beijing.

Like Safina, Pliskova reached the world rankings summit without winning a Grand Slam title, adding more pressure to the moment, especially in the third round.

"I feel pressure. I know all the opponents are behind me," Pliskova said of the rankings, "so I should win every match, which is tough."

Facing a match point after almost two sets of uneven tennis, Pliskova moved to her right, having converted only two successful forehands down the line up to that point.

But with her tennis fortunes hanging in the balance and all the pressure of failing to live up to her lofty ranking, she had little choice but to go for broke.

Without hesitation, she drew her racket back and hammered a piercing forehand down the line.

  • SELECTED RESULTS

  • Men's 3rd round

    Rafael Nadal (Esp) bt Leonardo Mayer (Arg) 6-7 (3-7) 6-3 6-1 6-4, Aleksandr Dolgopolov (Ukr) bt Viktor Troicki (Srb) 6-1 6-0 6-4, David Goffin (Bel) bt Gael Monfils (Fra) 7-5 5-1 retired, Roger Federer (Sui) bt Feliciano Lopez (Esp) 6-3 6-3 7-5, Philipp Kohlschreiber (Ger) bt John Millman (Aus) 7-5 6-2 6-4, Juan Martin del Potro (Arg) bt Roberto Bautista (Esp) 6-3 6-3 6-4, Dominic Thiem (Aut) bt Adrian Mannarino (Fra) 7-5 6-3 6-4.

  • Women's 3rd round

    Karolina Pliskova (Cze) bt Zhang Shuai (Chn) 3-6 7-5 6-4, Jennifer Brady (USA) bt Monica Niculescu (Rom) 6-3 4-6 7-6 (7-3), Coco Vandeweghe (USA) bt Agnieszka Radwanska (Pol) 7-5 4-6 6-4, Elina Svitolina (Ukr) bt Shelby Rogers (USA) 6-4 7-5, Madison Keys (USA) bt Elena Vesnina (Rus) 2-6 6-4 6-1, Daria Kasatkina (Rus) bt Jelena Ostapenko (Lat) 6-3 6-2, Kaia Kanepi (Est) bt Naomi Osaka (Jpn) 6-3 2-6 7-5.

China's Zhang, now ranked 26th, could not handle it, and the shot at Arthur Ashe Stadium changed the third-round match.

A finalist at last year's US Open, Pliskova capitalised on that pivotal forehand to win 3-6, 7-5, 6-4.

"I didn't have any other choice," the 25-year-old said of the decision to go down the line.

"I just went through it and prayed that it's going to be in. And it was in."

Zhang, who won 105 points in the match compared to Pliskova's 108, could only admire the Czech's gutsy shot selection.

"If it was any other average player, I think I did enough to win that game but I was against the world No. 1," she told Chinese media after the 2hr 19min battle.

"I think few people would have the courage to play such a ball when facing match point, so I can have no regrets."

Pliskova's victory set up a fourth-round encounter against Jennifer Brady of the United States.

Brady, who earned a spot in the round of 16 this year at the Australian Open in her debut appearance in the main draw of a Grand Slam tournament, defeated Monica Niculescu 6-3, 4-6, 7-6 (7-3).

Also through to the last 16 is Daria Kasatkina. The Russian knocked out French Open champion Jelena Ostapenko 6-3, 6-2.

The Latvian 12th seed hit 38 unforced errors in the shock loss, which was overshadowed by her lukewarm handshake at the net.

Switzerland's Belinda Bencic sarcastically described the moment as "classy" in a tweet, while Belgian veteran Steve Darcis also weighed in.

"Is it so difficult to give a 'normal' handshake to your opponent?" wrote the 33-year-old.

NYTIMES, REUTERS


US OPEN DAY 8

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 04, 2017, with the headline 'Pliskova's gamble a timely rescue act'. Print Edition | Subscribe