WTA Eastbourne: Karolina Pliskova narrowly edges past Peng Shuai

Karolina Pliskova got through a tough test against Peng Shuai in the second round of the Aegon International held in Eastbourne, recovering from deficits in both sets as the Czech prevailed in straight sets despite putting in a lackluster performance. Nevertheless, the world number three played some impressive tennis at the crucial moments to grind out the victory.

Pliskova steals the first set

Serving to start the match brought about some pressure for Peng as some early jitters saw Pliskova earn four break points in the opening game to have the golden opportunity to get the early lead. Nevertheless, the Chinese found her best serves just at the right time as she managed to narrowly escape from the deficit, holding onto her serve in the marathon eight-minute game. Having some rustiness on her shots caused an abundance of unforced errors, which eventually saw the Czech lose her serve in her first service game of the match, falling behind an early deficit.

Pliskova would have rued her chances as she held game points in both of the games, but instead, she found herself 0-2 down after 13 minutes of play. Peng was much more solid than her higher-ranked opponent as Pliskova continued to struggle on grass courts, and the underdog consolidated the break with an ace on game point to extend her lead. Peng was stubborn in her defense and always forced Pliskova to play one more shot than expected, which usually resulted in an unforced error. 

Karolina Pliskova hits a forehand | Photo: Charlie Crowhurst/Getty Images Europe
Karolina Pliskova hits a forehand | Photo: Charlie Crowhurst/Getty Images Europe

The world number three was brought to deuce by the Chinese once again, but this time the Czech came up with her big serves to get herself onto the scoreboard. Peng continued to play some impressive tennis as she was just too good for the lackluster Pliskova, and powered herself to yet another comfortable hold of service for a formidable 4-1 lead. Earning a game point after saving two break points, Peng failed to convert her chances as this was when the momentum shifted to the Czech. 

From 1-4 down, Pliskova rattled off four straight games to take the lead for the first time in the match and found herself serving for the set all of a sudden. Unexpectedly, there was yet another twist to the story as Peng broke straight back when the Roland Garros semifinalist served for the set. The momentum seemed to be with the Chinese as she comfortably held her serve to be just a game away from clinching the set, forcing Pliskova to serve to stay in the set. Nevertheless, the Czech displayed some great mental strength when she held her nerves to send the set into a tiebreak. After being down a minibreak at 1-2, Pliskova stormed back to win six of the next seven points as she eventually sealed the first set 7-6 after 58 minutes of play despite being 1-4 down.

Pliskova recovers to get the win

Carrying over the momentum from the first set, Pliskova easily held her serve in the opening game of the second set as she looked to close out the win in straight sets. However, Peng continued to put up a tough fight as she came up with an impressive winner on game point to level the scores. Despite losing a 40-0 lead on her serve, Peng eventually still managed to hold onto her service game and prevent Pliskova from taking the lead. Unexpectedly, the Chinese took the lead for the first time in the second set as she came out of nowhere to break serve. Peng then easily consolidated the break as she placed herself in an advantageous position to send the match into a deciding set, looking on fire.

Karolina Pliskova hits a backhand | Photo: Charlie Crowhurst/Getty Images Europe
Karolina Pliskova hits a backhand | Photo: Charlie Crowhurst/Getty Images Europe

Similar to the first set, Pliskova made an immediate fightback when Peng won her fourth game of the set as the Czech converted her fourth break point in the eighth game to return level as soon as possible. With the momentum running in her, Pliskova came up with a couple of big serves to save herself from the brink as she fended off a break point to be just one game away from sealing the win. Peng was still unable to convert her opportunities as she missed a game point in the final game as Pliskova was just too good at the crucial moments, clinching the win after 1 hour and 39 minutes with a huge forehand winner.