Under the dark clouds of Toronto at the Rogers Cup, a 35-game thriller was played out on Centre Court lasting two-hours, 58-minutes. Interrupted by multiple rain delays, which actually played a huge role in deciding the outcome of the match, Caroline Wozniacki produced multiple comebacks throughout the affair and claimed a hard-fought 7-5, 6-7, 6-4 win over then-world number one Karolina Pliskova in the last eight of the competition, with both players displaying some high-quality tennis in one of the best matches of 2017.
Wozniacki produces incredible virtual bagel to claim the first set
The start of the match was delayed by over two hours, but that did not affect Pliskova as she impressively came out firing, claiming the opening hold in just over a minute of play. Wozniacki struggled to find her feet early on and was standing way too behind the baseline as Pliskova dictated play throughout all the rallies. The Czech was visibly the better player on the court and was firing on all cylinders as she soon consolidated the break for a formidable 3-0 lead.
The first set was turning into a one-sided affair as Pliskova earned a 0-40 lead in the fourth game, but her groundstrokes were all over the place as her footwork were messy, causing Pliskova to lose the rhythm. A rain delay occurred when Wozniacki came back to earn a game point, but that did not spoil her mood as she finally got onto the scoreboard with a tough hold in the marathon 16-point game.
Nonetheless, Pliskova continued to keep up her high level of aggressive tennis, claiming eight of the next 10 points to open up a commanding 5-1 lead, being just a game away from taking the first set. Everything was going the Czech’s way until one service game totally ruined her momentum and the next rain delay at 2-5 completely changed the match outcome.
It seemed like a set of two different halves — and the players exchanged identities after the first half with Wozniacki being the aggressor and Pliskova not finding her groove at all. Wozniacki incredibly won 21 of the last 26 points, leveling the set at 5-5 out of nowhere. The rout just continued for Pliskova, who was, in fact, being outhit by the inspired Dane as Wozniacki took the lead for the first time with an excellent backhand return. Serving for the set, the sixth seed completed the comeback in some fashion, sealing the set 7-5 with an ace after an hour and 14-minutes.
Pliskova fights back from the brink
The second set had fewer twists and turns as compared to the first, with both players cruising through their service games to send the set into a tiebreak. After losing the first set, Pliskova was facing the huge risk of falling behind a huge deficit as Wozniacki played some world-class aggressive tennis, earning four break points in the fifth game. However, from there on, the Czech regained her composure and started to fire winners at her own will, wowing the crowd with her incredible serves.
Digging herself out of a 0-40 hold certainly boosted Pliskova’s confidence, and she once again had to fend off another break point at 3-3 as Wozniacki continued to push for a breakthrough. Having not faced a break point since the sixth game of the match, the Dane was in huge trouble for the first time in awhile but Pliskova only had herself to blame for not converting on her opportunities, allowing Wozniacki to send a forehand past her at the net while sending a return wide on her second chance.
The tiebreak saw Pliskova open up an early 3-1 lead but was eventually pegged back to 3-3. However, it was just one-way traffic from there as Pliskova came up with some relentless hitting, claiming four consecutive points to level the match after more than two hours of play.
The Dane mounts another excellent comeback to grab the win
Everything started to go in Pliskova’s favor after the Czech earned another break point in the opening game of the deciding set. However, Wozniacki stuck to her smart tactics and started redirecting the pace, forcing Pliskova to run all over the court. This allowed her to return from the brink and barely hold her serve. After several exchanges of service holds, we had our first break in over an hour as Pliskova was finally able to find the first breakthrough with Wozniacki making error after error at the baseline.
Comfortably leading 4-2, the finishing line looked in sight for the Czech but Wozniacki regained her composure quickly with her experience quickly proving pivotal. Her ability to endure through longer rallies and move her opponents around certainly troubled Pliskova, who grew increasingly frustrated with herself as more errors came off her racquet.
Four cheap errors by Pliskova at 4-3 saw Wozniacki come out of nowhere to break straight back, while all the momentum was with the Dane. As Pliskova’s level of play drastically dipped after winning her fourth game in the set, Wozniacki continued to fire aggressively while also displaying some world-class defense. Errors continued to come from Pliskova, and she ultimately hit her 26th unforced error of the match to fall in three tough sets.
Stats Corner: A high-quality affair
In what was the most shocking statistic of the match, Wozniacki managed to out-ace Pliskova in this encounter as the Czech failed to find her rhythm after losing a 5-1 lead in the first set. The Dane was excellent on her solid first serves, losing just 19 points behind them. Whereas, Pliskova was extremely disappointing on her vulnerable second serves, winning a mere 45 percent of those points.
Reflecting the high quality of this affair, both Pliskova and Wozniacki ended the match with positive ratios when it came to winners and unforced errors. The top seed impressively hit 44 winners to just 26 errors while Wozniacki was flawless throughout the majority of the match, blasting 29 winners and making just 15 unforced errors as the Dane played more aggressive than usual, putting up an excellent performance.
Reactions from the players
Speaking about her loss, Pliskova claimed that it was the first set which affected her greatly. Losing the first set from 5-1 up, the Czech was visibly disappointed with her own performance, “I think the biggest mistake was in the first set. So because of that, I think I lost. So it was tough. We played almost three hours.” Pliskova also blamed the uncountable rain delays, mentioning that the third rain delay caused her to get “a little bit tight”.
Wozniacki’s key factor in grabbing the win was arguably her solid and consistent serving, and she was rather pleased with it, “Yeah, just something I've really been working on. And it was really working for me today and it was important in the match today. So I was very happy and pleased with that.” A huge contrast to Pliskova, the Dane mentioned that she was used to dealing with rain delays, and experience certainly mattered here, “It's okay. I've had a lot of rain delays this year, so wasn't really too worried or too concerned. You can't really change the weather. So I just think about what's in my control, and I was ready when we had to be ready.”
Aftermath: Pliskova falls from the top, Wozniacki continues good run
The two went on to meet twice in the remainder of the year, with their next meeting coming as soon as the week after. Pliskova triumphed in their Cincinnati rematch, defeating the poor-performing Dane in straight sets without being broken. However, Wozniacki exacted revenge for her loss at a much bigger stage, defeating the Czech in the semifinals at the WTA Finals en route to triumphing in Singapore.
With this loss, Pliskova’s first tournament as the world number one ended decently in the hands of a fellow top-10 player. This loss proved to be crucial as she went on to reach the semifinals in Cincinnati before her reign at number one ended after the US Open, while a lackluster Asian Swing saw her eventually end the year in the fourth spot.
A notable statistic stated that this was Wozniacki’s first-ever win over a reigning number one player in the world throughout her glorious career. This incredible win allowed her to eventually reach her sixth final of the year but the Dane ultimately went on to claim her first titles of the year in Tokyo and Singapore (WTA Finals), the fifth biggest tournament in women’s tennis. On both occasions, she had wins over the top-ranked players during that period in time (Muguruza and Halep). Wozniacki ended the year as the third-ranked player.