On a day when world No. 1 Ashleigh Barty was forced to retire due to injury, Czech Karolina Pliskova saved three match points to beat former French Open champion Jelena Ostapenko of Latvia to move into the semi-finals with a 4-6, 7-5, 7-6(1) win at the Italian Open on Friday.
Karolina’s opponent in the semi-finals will be the resurgent Croat Petra Martic, who entered her first semi-final of the season, defeating Jessica Pegula of the US, 7-5, 6-4.
Ashleigh, who was leading 6-4, 2-1, retired in her quarter-final match against American Coco Gauff after what looked like an injury to her right arm. The Australian appeared to be clutching her right bicep, which was covered with a compression sleeve.
It’s unclear how serious Ashleigh’s injury is, but the Aussie was visibly frustrated, holding her head in her hands when talking to the trainer. With Ashleigh’s retirement, Coco advanced to her first WTA 1000-level semi-finals. She will face the winner of the Iga Swiatek and Elina Svitolina match.
Karolina, the 2019 champion and 2020 runners-up, saved three match points at 5-4 in the final set before storming back to victory after two hours and 20 minutes of powerful play.
The No.9 seed staged her second clay-court comeback over Jelena this season, having fought back from a set down against the Latvian in Stuttgart last month as well. Overall, Karolina now holds a 5-3 edge in her head-to-head against Jelena.
In a topsy-turvy first set, Jelena powered her way to a 4-0 lead before Karolina clawed back at 4-4. But Jelena ultimately claimed the set, drawing errors from Karolina to break serve at 5-4.
Karolina got her revenge in the second set as she reclaimed the break with a crosscourt backhand to lead 6-5. The Czech then served brilliantly in the next game to close it out with an ace.
The stage was set for a classic deciding set, and it lived up to expectations. Karolina twice took an early break lead with super returning, and both times Jelena charged back behind blistering groundstrokes, enroute to even-footing at 4-4.
“Just proud, I think mostly, how I fought,” Karolina said after her win. “I’m just happy that I stayed in there and fought till the end.”