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Pliskova saves match point to stun Azarenka

5 January 2015, by Ethan James

UPDATE 11.10pm: Former world No.1 Victoria Azarenka has bombed out in a dramatic three-hour-plus epic against aggressive Czech, Karolina Pliskova, on Pat Rafter Arena on Monday night.

The Belarusian, on the comeback from a foot injury, served for the match at 6-4 5-4 before the tall 22-year-old mounted her stunning fightback.

She would save a match point in the second-set tiebreak and clawed back a break of serve in the decider to deny last year’s runner-up 4-6 7-6(7) 6-4 after 3h 13mins.

“It was definitely one of the biggest wins of my career and I’m looking forward to the second round of Brisbane,” she said, also paying tribute to a supportive Pat Rafter Arena crowd.

“There were a few nice points, like, long rallies, and crowd was amazing.”

Both players went toe-to-toe in some cracking groundstroke rallies, with neither keen to surrender their position on top of the baseline.

On the return from a foot injury, it seemed fitting that Azarenka began her season at the venue where she played her last tour final.

The tennis gods weren’t kind to the former world No.1 last year, with the lower leg complaint playing havoc with her progress for the majority of the season.

She missed a total of five months of the tour and was absent for seven of the first 16 events.

Needless to say, defending rankings points from a 2013 that netted an Australian Open title and success at Doha and Cincinnati proved impossible and as a result her ranking slid from world No.2 to No.32 by year’s end.

Serving ahead 5-4 in the second, Azarenka had the result on her racquet but Pliskova rallied in a mammoth 10th game and eventually forced a tiebreak before levelling the match.

Azarenka fought off two break points at 3-all in the third, but Pliskova continued to press on serve and got due reward when she broke the wall down with a forehand winner to take a 5-4 lead.

A backhand pass down the line provided match point, before an unforced error from Azarenka.

Earlier, the two-time grand slam winner served for the opening set at 5-2 but Pliskova rallied and broke back with two stunning down-the-line winners off both wings in succession.

However, she steadied to close out the opener 6-4.

“It was starting to be close in the second set and I felt like she’s starting to do more mistakes than in the first set.  She was playing very good in the first set, especially the beginning,” Pliskova said. “But I was trying just to put the ball in so she could make a mistake, and she did.”

It was the second women’s upset on Pat Rafter Arena on Monday after youngster Madison Keys toppled Dominka Cibulkova in straight sets.

Pliskova meets Alla Kudryavtsevsa in the second round, after the Russian lucky loser beat Bethanie Mattek-Sands 6-4 6-2 earlier in the day.