The late night epic at the BNP Paribas Open saw Kristyna Pliskova missing 18 break points and one match point only to lose against Dominika Cibulkova in three sets which were decided by a final set tiebreak, missing the chance to enter the Top 50 in the rankings for the first time in her career.
Pliskova storms to first set victory
Pliskova had the perfect start to the match, breaking down Cibulkova’s serve to get the break of serve in the opening game of the match, getting the early advantage as her forehands looked precise and accurate. Relying on her strong serves, Pliskova consolidated the break of serve with a comfortable service hold, extending her lead to 2-0 as Cibulkova looked shaky in the opening stages of the match.
After an exchange of service holds, it was Pliskova who made the next breakthrough once again as Cibulkova failed to find her first serves, allowing the Czech to attack her second serves and take a double break lead, edging closer to the first set victory. After losing a 40-0 lead only to see Pliskova get back to deuce, the Slovakian maintained her composure to hold her serve narrowly and keep herself in the set for at least one more game.
Serving for the set, Pliskova successfully completed the job as she converted on her second set point after missing the first because of her first double fault in the match. This was a near-perfect set played by Pliskova, with the Czech holding all her service games and facing no break point at all.
Cibulkova mounts incredible comeback
The start of the second set saw Pliskova missing a break point opportunity as she sent a backhand return into the net, allowing Cibulkova to hold onto her service game eventually. Facing some troubles in her opening service game of the set, Pliskova managed to maintain her composure and sent in some pretty strong serves to secure the hold of service, preventing herself from lagging behind on the scoreboard early in the set.
The Czech then earned triple break points with some strong returns in the next game but was still unable to convert on any of those opportunities as Cibulkova’s solid groundstrokes saved her from the brink of going down a set and a break. After a service hold to love for Pliskova, there was finally a first service break of the second set as Pliskova made the first breakthrough in the set, saving one game point on her way to taking the lead and looked poised to create the huge upset.
Having a chance to extend her lead in the second set to 5-2 and a double break advantage, Pliskova once again missed two break point opportunities as Cibulkova yet again lessened the deficit to just one game. Soon after, Pliskova found herself serving for the huge upset at 5-4 as Cibulkova continued to struggle on the return after she failed to find a break point opportunity in the whole match up till now.
The Slovakian found her best tennis at the most crucial moment as she took advantage of Pliskova failing to find her first serves when serving for the match, probably due to the pressure. Cibulkova earned her first break point of the match in that game and dutifully converted it after some excellent offensive play. Earning her eighth break point of the second set, Pliskova was once again ineffective as she allowed a passing forehand winner to get past her, allowing Cibulkova to take a 6-5 lead, winning three games in a row to take the lead for the first time in the match.
Pliskova looked to have run out of steam when she went down 0-40 in the next game, gifting Cibulkova three set points. However, she managed to find her first serves at the most crucial moment as she rattled off five consecutive points to narrowly hold onto her service game and extend the set into a tiebreak.
Within a blink of an eye, Cibulkova looked like her comeback was almost complete as she ran out to a 4-1 lead in the tiebreak, being just three points away from winning the second set. Despite Pliskova putting up a tough resistance, Cibulkova managed to close out the tiebreak 7-5 eventually, leveling the match at one set all after 1 hour and 36 minutes.
Pliskova wastes multiple chances
The victory seemed to be in Cibulkova’s hands when she broke serve in the opening game of the final set, taking the early advantage after saving one game point in the process as Pliskova started to look tired and her momentum slowly running out. What happened next was certainly unexpected as Pliskova displayed her fighting spirit when she broke straight back to return level on serve, following it up with a service hold to love as she took the lead in the final set.
Having the chance to lead by a break in the set, similar to the second set, Pliskova wasted yet another two break points as Cibulkova hit some solid groundstrokes to save both of them and barely held her serve as she remained level on serve in the final set. The next break points came in the eighth game of the set as Pliskova threatened to make the breakthrough again, with the Czech being too overly-passive on those opportunities as Cibulkova eventually prevailed in the 13-points game.
Serving to stay in the match, Cibulkova almost succumbed to the pressure as she prevailed in a marathon 19-points game, saving one match point along the way, after failing to convert on five game points which saw her struggling to win points when serving from the advantage court. Losing her serve in the 11th game of the final set, Pliskova looked to be heading out of the tournament as Cibulkova had the golden opportunity to serve out the match.
Nevertheless, Pliskova played her best tennis and put up a spirited performance to break straight back despite wasting another five break points to send the match into a final set tiebreak. After winning the first point of the tiebreak, Cibulkova rattled off four consecutive points as she looked the favorite for the win once more, before Pliskova tried her best effort to mount a comeback and salvage the score. However, Pliskova’s effort all went down in vain as the Czech sent a big forehand wide and gifted the match to Cibulkova after 2 hours and 50 minutes.
Pliskova served a clinical number of 18 aces in the match and won 79% of first service points to excel in her service games, being broken just a total of three times in this thrilling match. Both players ended the match with a positive difference between their winners and unforced errors as Cibulkova hit 41 winners to 38 unforced errors, while Pliskova hit a massive amount of 64 winners in the match, which came along with 50 unforced errors.
Nevertheless, the main story about the match was about the missed break points by Pliskova, as she only converted 5 of 23 break points (22%) in the whole match, failing to convert break points in an incredible amount of seven different return games. Had Pliskova used her chances well, the win would have definitely gone to her now.