Daniela Hantuchova had one advantage over second round opponent Karolina Pliskova when they faced off at Australian Open 2014 on Wednesday. That vital advantage was experience.
It was the experience she has gained from playing in 13 Australian Opens in as many years, and the skill level that took her to as high as No. 5 in the WTA rankings.
On the other hand, Pliskova was entering just her second Australian Open, after last year falling to Eleni Daniilidou in straight sets during the first round.
It was a match of master versus apprentice in every sense, but few would have predicted the result would be as close as it was, with Hantuchova limping over the line 6-3 3-6 12-10 in a marathon that lasted three hours and 13 minutes.
Far away from the centre court lights on Court 13, Hantuchova started aggressively. The similarly-sized Pliskova looked fragile early on, the Slovak taking out the opening set with little trouble.
With both players struggling in the intense heat that peaked at 41 degrees, Hantuchova and Pliskova seemingly made a concerted effort to do as little running as possible, and it appeared the match would be decided from the baseline. As the mercury soared, both players struggled to keep concentration and both were happy to use as much time as possible between points.
Pliskova took an all-or-nothing approach to the second set, unleashing a series of powerful winners on her forehand side. After the Czech took the second set in 35 minutes, there was no excuse not to apply the same approach in the decider.
With a 10-minute break before the third set, the temperature dropped slightly as the sun hid behind the clouds. With that, both players were re-energised, and took the contest on with a greater freedom as the match progressed.
Hantuchova, who returned well from Pliskova’s solid serving, broke first. But it wouldn’t be for long, the plucky Czech breaking back in the following game.
From there, the match seemed to have no end. It was unpredictable and entertaining, but neither competitor could find a consistent advantage that could be interpreted as momentum.
Hantuchova became more and more vocal as the outside court swelled to capacity, the 30-year-old becoming increasingly animated in an attempt to simply will herself over the line.
But her gutsy opponent wouldn’t let in. Sensing it was now or never, Pliskova played with tenacity and resolve, feeling that every point could mean the difference.
As the clock ticked over three hours, Hantuchova employed that crucial advantage over her younger opponent, her experience.
It was that experience which saved her from three break points during the 16th game. It was experience that allowed her to ace her way through the final crucial moments. It was experience that helped her keep focus in the almost unbearable conditions.
The victory brought about a sense of relief for Hantuchova, but her respite will be brief; she next faces fellow seasoned campaigner Serena Williams in the third round.