Seventh seed Karolina Pliskova overcame a huge third set deficit to stun 16th seed Serena Williams 6-4, 4-6, 7-5 in the quarterfinals of the Australian Open. The Czech defeated the 23-time Grand Slam champion at a major for the second time, the first occurring in the 2016 U.S. Open semifinals.
Pliskova got off to the best possible start, riding an early break in the first set to take the opener and seemed to be in firm control after breaking again midway through the second set. Williams responded by winning nine of the next 11 games before the Czech recovered from a 5-1 third set deficit to claim the stunning victory, winning 23 of the final 31 points.
Pliskova rides early break, dominant serve to first set victory
Pliskova's huge serve was not in full gear early on as she was pushed to deuce, but managed to hang on to keep pace with Williams. The next game would prove to be crucial as the Czech set up double break point with a backhand winner and converted after a slice approach and error from the American.
Ahead 3-1, the seventh seed was looking for an insurance break and held 0-40 in Williams' next service game, but the seven-time Melbourne champion used some big serving and heavy hitting to fight her way out of the deficit and remain in touch, only trailing 3-2.
Neither player had another opportunity to break in the set and serving for the set at 5-4, Pliskova used her wide serve to stretch Williams and force a forehand error to set up double set point. An ace to close out a dominant serving display clinched the opening set for the Czech.
Serena battles back to take second set
Williams continued to be put under tremendous pressure, needing to save a break point in the opening game of the second set. She was still having no success in penetrating Pliskova's serve, winning just five points in a span of six games from the beginning of the first set to the middle of the second.
The fifth game seemingly proved to be crucial as the American was again under siege, having to save a break point with a forehand volley winner, but gifting the Czech a second chance with a duffed overhead. Pliskova again went to the slice and found success as Williams couldn't answer with her own slice and the seventh seed was now in command.
Showing the resolve that has been a trademark of her legendary career, Williams immediately broke back, which seemed to spark her game, posting two dominant holds of serve to go up 5-4. Serving to stay in the set, a 14-point, four deuce game culminated with Pliskova sending a backhand into the net, the match headed to a third set.
Pliskova wins final six games after Williams injury, foot fault called on ace on match point
The momentum built up by Williams carried over into the third set with the American making sure she got off to a quicker start this time than in the first two sets, breaking in the fourth game on a beautiful forehand winner to go up 3-1.
Another break put the 23-time major champion in complete command at 5-1 and she served for what would be a hard-fought win. Getting to 40-30, Williams served what looked to be a match-winning ace only to be called for a foot fault. Given a reprieve, Pliskova would go on to break.
After turning her ankle, Williams was not the same and she quickly dumped serve again to bring the final set back on serve at 5-4. Resolute as ever, she held three more match points in the tenth game, Pliskova saving all of them with her forehand doing the damage.
After scraping out that hold for 5-5, the Czech again stung a forehand to set up triple match point and was in the lead when Williams netted a backhand to go ahead 6-5. She needed three match points to finally close out the victory when the American missed a forehand to set up a semifinal showdown with U.S. Open champion Naomi Osaka.