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Late-blooming Pole Magda Linette will contest her first Grand Slam semifinal after felling former world No.1 Karolina Pliskova at the Australian Open on Wednesday.

In her 30th major main draw appearance, the world No.45 threw her arms over her head in disbelief after she completed the 6-3 7-5 victory.

She became the third Polish woman in seven years, after world No.1 Iga Swiatek and Agnieszka Radwanksa – who cheered on from her box – to reach an Australian Open semifinal.

“I will never forget this,” Linette said.

“It’s the first time ever I’m breaking through… (These are) difficult things for me. I mean, this will stay with me for life, so I’m really grateful.”

The build-up

Content to slip under the radar, two-time major finalist Pliskova had spent less time on court than any of her quarterfinal peers.

A wrist injury cost her a start in last year’s Australian Open and she had not reached the quarterfinals in 17 of her past 21 events.

While her ranking had subsequently plummeted to world No.31, her lowest mark since 2014, there was no dodging the attention when a major semifinal was on the line against an opponent whom she she had beaten in seven of their nine meetings.

Pliskova had also enjoyed a far smoother path to this stage. Yet to drop a set and broken only three times all tournament, she defeated Zhang Shuai in just 55 minutes in the fourth round.

However, the 45th-ranked Linette had grown into a vastly different prospect in the past 12 months.

A late-bloomer in comparison to her fellow 30-year-old, she had spoken of carving her own path in the wake of world No.1 Iga Swiatek’s extraordinary recent feats, but admitted there were flow-on effects from her young compatriot’s success.

A late-bloomer in comparison to her fellow 30-year-old, she had spoken of carving her own path in the wake of world No.1 Iga Swiatek’s extraordinary recent feats, but admitted there were flow-on effects from her young compatriot’s success.

Defeats of three straight seeds at Melbourne Park, including over No.3 Caroline Garcia, carried her the deepest she had ventured at a major.

While she fell to Pliskova in a third-set tiebreak first up at Flushing Meadows, she claimed their most recent encounter in Polish colours at the Billie Jean King Cup.

Story of the match

Pliskova’s clean, heavy ball-striking was an ever-present threat at Melbourne Park and had taken her past the likes of Garbine Muguruza and Serena Williams in succession on her lone previous run to the last four here.

Linette knew she had to absorb the Czech’s pace if she stood any chance and did so particularly well to peg back an early break.

Making inroads on return against one of the tour’s most prolific ace queens was no mean feat, but she had Pliskova flummoxed and managed two breaks in the opening set alone.

There were nervous moments for the Pole when she was forced to fend off a break point at 5-3 but with Radwanska cheering on, she strode to the chair confidently with the set in the bag after 35 minutes.

Consecutive double faults cost her the break and Linette served out her most significant triumph after 89 minutes.

“I definitely stayed composed at the beginning because she had a really good break at the start of the match,” Linette said.

“I knew how tough it was going to be to break her back. I just stayed composed and I’m really happy when I had my chance, I took it.”

Key stats

Pliskova’s 36 unforced errors were particularly damaging, given her opponent committed only 16.

Linette took it to the Czech, winning 71 per cent of points on her opponent’s second serve and winning 50 of 80 rallies under five shots.

What it means for Linette

The Pole is assured of a new career-best ranking of world No.22, following her maiden major semifinal.

She will meet either fifth seed Aryna Sabalenka or Croatian Donna Vekic, two players she has yet to defeat.

“Dreams come true, we keep going,” Linette said. “I don’t want to get too excited because we’re still in the tournament, but I’m super grateful and happy.”

What next for Pliskova?

The Czech was left to rue a big opening in the draw but has done enough to climb back to world No.21.

It marked the first time she reached back-to-back Grand Slam quarterfinals since the US Open two years ago, which came after her Wimbledon final loss to Ash Barty.

Source: Dan Imhoff

www.sports24ghana.com

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