World number one Karolina Pliskova once again had a huge escape at the US Open as this time she ousted the dangerous Zhang Shuai in the third round, prevailing in three tough sets having saved a match point in the process. It was definitely a heartbreaking loss for the Chinese, who played so well throughout the whole match only to falter at the crucial moments.
On the other hand, it was an incredible win for the Czech as she overcame a possible right wrist injury to triumph, keeping herself in contention to keep her number one ranking at the end of the fortnight.
Zhang produces incredible level of play and takes the first set 6-3
Coming into the match as the huge underdog and having a 0-4 head to head record against the world number one certainly provided Zhang with a huge amount of pressure. Playing in the biggest tennis stadium in the world for the first time in her career, Zhang’s early jitters reflected on the scoreboard as a couple of early errors gifted Pliskova with the break in the opening game.
However, the Chinese was quick to return level as she unexpectedly outhit the world number one at the baseline, starting to find her range. The Czech tried to produce an immediate reply but failed to do so as Zhang was just too good on her serve, consolidating the break for a 2-1 lead.
The Chinese then produced some powerful returns, dictating play throughout most of the rallies as Pliskova failed to get going with her explosive game, being in deep trouble after the bright start. Looking to make a break back, the world number one earned a break point after benefitting from some unforced errors but Zhang was just too good, saving it with an impressive running forehand down-the-line winner.
Zhang’s tactic of going up to the net more often managed to work well as she held serve in the nervy game for a 4-1 lead. Pliskova finally found the rhythm on her serve, holding her serve to love before the underdog placed herself just one game away from winning the first set. This is arguably Zhang’s best performance of her lackluster year, playing at an insane level to eventually clinch the set 6-3 after just 34 minutes of play.
Pliskova saves a match point and sends the match into a deciding set
Pliskova had a confidence-boosting start to the second set, with her serve looking at its absolute best as she looked to send the match into a decider. Similar to the first set, it was the world number one who made the first breakthrough, relying on some errors by the Chinese to take the break. The top seed then fended off an incredible four break points and utilized her strong serves to overwhelm her unforced errors, narrowly holding her serve for a formidable 3-0 lead.
After a long wait, Zhang finally got herself onto the scoreboard in the second set with a comfortable service hold. Coming out of nowhere, Zhang broke straight back as she was not fazed by the pressure, soon returning level at 3-3. It seemed to be game over when the Chinese earned a 15-30 lead in the seventh game, but Pliskova maintained her composure to prevent Zhang from taking the lead.
Pliskova never really got going as errors after errors continued to plague her as she was broken for the fourth time in the match, gifting Zhang with the golden opportunity to serve out the match. However, the Czech hit her best forehand of the day, which was just her third forehand winner in the set, to save a match point before breaking back to level the scores and keep herself in contention for the comeback victory.
Serving incredibly on break points at 5-5, Pliskova impressively saved three of them despite looking out-of-sorts throughout the game, holding her serve in a nervy game to be just a game away from sending the match into a final set. Showing signs of nerves while serving to stay in the set, Zhang threw in a double fault at 15-30 to gift Pliskova two set points, and the world number one eventually came out of nowhere to clinch the second set 7-5.
Pliskova recovers from a break down to steal the win
After receiving a treatment from the physio for a right wrist injury, Pliskova started the deciding set serving but her strokes were noticeably weaker as Zhang dictated play to earn triple break points within a blink of an eye. Being fourth time lucky, the Chinese took the early lead in the decider but she faced some troubles trying to consolidate as Pliskova’s returns were ruthless, punishing all her vulnerable second serves. The Czech earned a break point but was unable to capitalize on it as Zhang had some ideas of her own, hitting an amazing forehand passing shot to return to deuce.
After what seemed like an eternity, the 27th seed finally consolidated the break for a 2-0 lead. 24 minutes into the final set, Pliskova clinched her first game with a routine service hold and looked to make use of any opportunities given to her. Zhang started to become more erratic as the match progressed, which allowed the Czech to return level at 2-2.
Pliskova finally started to gain the momentum as she won her third straight game to lead for the first time in the deciding set, edging closer to the comeback win. Nerves almost put Zhang in a difficult spot when she was down a break point in the sixth game, but the Chinese played some of her best tennis at the crucial moments to narrowly hold onto her serve, keeping the scores very tight. Zhang missed the golden opportunity to take the lead when she got to deuce on Pliskova’s serve, but it has soon become a very competitive match with both players giving their all.
Unexpectedly, it was followed by two consecutive love service holds as Pliskova had the advantage during the next changeover, leading 5-4 with Zhang forced to serve to stay in the match. A huge drive volley smashed into the net at 30-30 caused by nerves seemed to prove costly as it gifted Pliskova with her first match point. Despite some stubborn defense from the 27th seed, the defending finalist ultimately came out better as she let out a huge scream after winning match point, claiming the tough win after two hours and 19 minutes of play.