The Ashe Stadium crowd was on its feet, its thunderous voice calling out “Venus, Venus, Venus.”
Venus Williams had just clawed back from three match points down to Katerina Plis kova to force a third-set tiebreak. This match was what the Open is about, players pushing each other to the edge, players pulling themselves back, players leaving nothing in the tank in the cauldron of a Grand Slam.
And although Williams felt the warmth and energy of the crowd while maintaining her steely focus, its collective voice couldn’t overcome the singular drive of Pliskova, who went on a run late in the tiebreak to pull out the fourth-round match Monday and make it to the quarterfinals of a Slam for the first time.
The match was every bit as close, every bit as fascinating, every bit as gut-wrenching as its final score: 4-6, 6-4, 7-6 (3).
“It’s an amazing atmosphere out there, but it’s definitely all business when you’re on the court,” Williams said. “There’s a lot of tough situations. No matter what position you get in, your opponent is still trying to figure out how to win the match. You don’t have time to start enjoying the moment and looking around. You know, sports just doesn’t work that way.”
And fairy tales don’t often come true. Williams, 36, was playing in her 72nd Grand Slam tournament, a record. If she had won this match, she would have been one more win away from playing sister Serena in the semifinals. And she was continuing to prove that she can fight through a disease — Sjogren’s syndrome — a diagnosis she revealed when she withdrew from the 2011 Open.
At the outset, it seemed as if Williams would have an easy time of it. She broke Pliskova in the second and sixth games of the first set and was serving for the set at 5-1. But instead of shutting and bolting the door on the set, she left it ajar, and Pliskova stepped in. She broke Williams twice to get back on serve, but Williams managed to break her in the 10th game to win the set, though seeds of doubt were setting in.
“Yeah, it was just a lot of errors,” Williams said of letting Pliskova back into the match. “I still have to cut back on my errors. I think she started returning serve really well as the match progressed. She lifted her game. Definitely a lot of credit to her for hanging in there and staying positive.”
Pliskova, the 10th seed, has had a positive summer. She won the prestigious Cincinnati tournament two weeks before the Open with an eye-opening run, beating Svetlana Kuznetsova in the quarters, French Open champion Garbine Muguruza in the semis and Australian Open champ Angelique Kerber in the final.
When Pliskova finally won the wrestling match with her first serve — she got only 29 percent of them in during the first set — she started to push back the tide that Williams rode in at the start. Yet Williams still had her head above water in the third set and had a match point on Pliskova’s serve, but she failed to convert it. She said that moment won’t linger.
“I was never in control of that point, even though I played a great point,” Williams said. “It was really a little bit out of my hands. Had I reached match point on my serve, then of course I’d think about it a lot more.”
Pliskova believes she’ll be seeing more of Venus Williams. “It’s huge, huge tennis what she’s still playing at that age,” she said. “I remember her, I was a little girl watching her, [and] Serena, on TV. They are still playing. They are still playing the best tennis ever. It’s amazing.”
Radwanska upset. Ana Konjuh, 18, upset No. 4 seed Agnieszka Radwanska, 6-4, 6-4, and will face Pliskova in the quarterfinals . . . Fifth-seeded Simona Halep beat Carla Suarez Navarro, 6-2, 7-5, and will face Serena Williams.