MELBOURNE, Australia — Karolina Pliskova says her “mind was in the locker room” when she was down 5-1 in the third set of her Australian Open quarterfinal against 23-time major winner Serena Williams on Wednesday.
Pliskova, the seventh seed, saved four match points as she rallied to win the last six games to earn a 6-4, 4-6, 7-5 victory and a semifinal spot against U.S. Open champion Naomi Osaka.
“I didn’t have too many chances in the third set. I was a little bit too passive. Obviously mentally down,” Pliskova said. “So I just said, ‘Let’s try this game, on 5-2, maybe I’m going to have couple of chances.’
“She got a bit shaky at the end, so I took my chances, and I won.”
On one match point for Williams, she was called for a foot-fault. Williams was serving for the match at 5-1 in the third when the foot-fault was called. She then appeared to roll her left ankle during the next point as she lost three straight points and was broken.
Pliskova’s win over the seven-time Australian Open titlist means there will be a first-time women’s champion at Melbourne Park this year.
In the other semifinal, two-time Wimbledon winner Petra Kvitova will play Danielle Collins, who had not won a Grand Slam match before this tournament. Kvitova’s best previous run at Melbourne was to the semifinals in 2012. Collins, 25, of Florida picked up a 2-6, 7-5, 6-1 win over Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova.
Osaka reached her first semifinal at the Australian Open with a 6-4, 6-1 victory over Elina Svitolina. Osaka, the fourth seed, used her aggressive style and big hitting to compile a 31-11 edge in winners, including eight aces.
Osaka, 21, is the reigning U.S. Open champion. She had not been past the fourth round at Melbourne Park.
Svitolina had her neck and shoulders massaged by a trainer during a medical timeout while trailing 3-0 in the second set. The sixth seed from Ukraine said afterward that she had been troubled by pain in that area since the start of the tournament.
Early in his quarterfinal match Tuesday, Frances Tiafoe faced a break point against his tested opponent.
Rafael Nadal is not just any opponent, though. He is the No. 2 seed, a champion in Melbourne in 2009, the owner of 17 Grand Slam titles and as punishing a player as ever at age 32.
Nadal’s return of serve came back powerfully, pushing the 21-year-old far to his backhand side for a meager reply. With that, Nadal, as he did during the entire span of a coldly efficient victory, had put his opponent on a confidence-draining string.
The exchange ended with a booming Nadal down-the-line forehand, which the powerfully built Tiafoe sent meekly into the net.
Two games into a much-anticipated fight, Tiafoe’s serve had been broken, his fighting spirit dealt a severe blow.
After winning that first break point, Nadal didn’t look back. Roughly 90 minutes later, the scoreboard flashed the result: 6-3, 6-4, 6-2.
Buoyant on court after the match, Nadal told the crowd that he recently had joked that the tour’s young challengers could wait a while before challenging for tennis supremacy.
“Looks that they don’t want to wait,” he said. “They are there, no?”
In this tournament, Nadal has beaten Alex de Minaur, the 19-year-old new hope of Australia. In the semifinals Thursday, Nadal will play Stefanos Tsitsipas, a 20-year-old from Greece, who defeated the 30-year-old Spaniard, Roberto Bautista Agut, 7-5, 4-6, 6-4, 7-6 (2).
Tsitsipas, seeded 14th and the first Greek player to make a serious dent in the pro game, is among the clutch of heralded college-age players.
This post was originally posted at https://www.sfgate.com/sports/article/Karolina-Pliskova-seizes-chance-to-beat-Serena-13554102.php.