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Three-time champion Pliskova overcomes Osaka in Brisbane return

3 January 2024, by Vivienne Christie

If Karolina Pliskova needs a confidence boost after recent injury and form challenges, Brisbane is the perfect place to provide it.

The Czech is the only three-time champion of this tournament, lifting the trophy in 2017, 2019 and when the WTA event was last staged at the Queensland Tennis Centre in 2020.

The Brisbane International is also the only tournament that Pliskova has won three times.

In her seventh campaign at Brisbane this summer, an opening match against the returning Naomi Osaka – in a battle of former world No.1 players – presented a superb opportunity.

Pliskova not only entered their Pat Rafter Arena contest on Wednesday leading their head-to-head record 3-2 but had defeated Osaka in their last match on the same court.

That three-set tussle in 2020, in which the Czech saved a match point, extended to almost three hours.

So when Pliskova dropped the first set against Osaka in their latest encounter, the experienced No.16 seed didn’t panic.

Rather, she fired up her big serve against the four-time Grand Slam champion to emerge with a 3-6 7-6(4) 6-4 win.

“I like these conditions, I like to be back here,” said Pliskova in her on-court interview, adding that it was especially pleasing after a four-year break.

“So I’m happy I started here with a win. Usually I play good matches (in Brisbane). Last match here with Naomi was over three hours.”

It was a similarly close contest in the pair’s sixth match.

The former world No.1s exchanged service breaks early in the first set, with Osaka consolidating another one in the sixth game and going on to win the set.

The second set was even tighter, Pliskova saving three break points in the third game and steadily improving on her trademark serve. From a 2-0 lead in the tiebreak, Pliskova seized control of the match.

“I think the focus,” said Pliskova, when asked what made the difference in her two hour, 14-minute win. “Of course, we played for a while. And I. mean you can practise as much as you want but matches are always a little bit different.

“I felt like the one game I lost a little bit of focus on my serve, but I really wanted to finish it and not stay here (on court) much longer.”

In the big picture, Pliskova could in fact be most pleased with the 16 aces that featured among her 50 winners and a first serve percentage that steadily improved throughout the match.

“Of course, start of the season is important,” she noted. “I thought I played quite well. (there) are a lot of things to improve but a good start.”

> VIEW: Brisbane International 2024 women’s singles draw

While Pliskova will take confidence into a third-round meeting with Jelena Ostapenko or Camila Giorgi, Osaka can also take positives from her Brisbane return.

The Japanese star claimed a two-sets win over Tamara Korpatsch in the first match of her comeback and could identify achievable improvements – notably converting break points – in her latest match.

“I think for me even stepping on the court is a personal win because a couple of weeks ago I was even doubting if I could play with everyone. So I guess these two matches that I’ve had kind of prove to me that I am doing okay, and the year is just going to get better for me,” a smiling Osaka reflected.

“Even though it’s super disappointing today, I know that if I keep training and if I keep putting in the work, then I’ll eventually get to where I want to be.”

> READ: Sabalenka “super happy” to be back in Brisbane

Aryna Sabalenka was also in a happy place on day four at Brisbane, taking less than an hour to overcome Lucia Bronzetti 6-3 6-0 in her first match of the year.

“I’m super happy with the performance. I think I played a really great match. I just hope I can keep the same level in each match or even better,” said Sabalenka, the top seed in Brisbane this week.

The straight-sets progress marked Sabalenka’s 12th straight match win in Australia, after she claimed titles at the Adelaide International and Australian Open last year.

“I have goose bump thinking about the AO final,” smiled the 25-year-old, who overcame Elena Rybakina for her first Grand Slam win.

“I really have a lot of good memories since the Australian Open. I want to do the best to replicate the result from last year.”

> BUY NOW: Tickets for Brisbane International 2024