Melbourne | Pliskova shakes off Strycova

If Simona Halep was awake in the early hours of Tuesday morning, she would have learned that her opponent in the quarter-final of the Australian Open will be Karolina Pliskova, who shook off her persistent countrywoman Barbora Strycova, 6-7(5) 6-3 6-2.

The World No 1 has spent a shade under eight hours on court in four matches so far, including an epic 3hr 44min against Lauren Davis on Saturday, which the Romanian won 15-13 in the final set.

The first set took away from me a lot of power, but I was much more aggressive after that Karolina PLiskova

Halep feels she is close to playing ‘100 per cent’, despite her aching body giving her sleepless nights as she reached the Australian Open last eight on Monday.

“First day after the [Davis] match was pretty OK,” the top seed told reporters after her 6-3 6-2 victory over unseeded Naomi Osaka of Japan in 81 minutes.

“Last night was really tough. I couldn’t sleep. I had pain everywhere, but I slept before the match two hours, and worked perfect, perfect hours. I was, like, fresh after that. I felt good.”

Taking to the court just before 11pm local time, Pliskova and Strycova slugged it out for two hours and 41 minutes in the late match at Rod Laver Arena before former US Open finalist Pliskova finally put down her compatriot.

Tattoed Pliskova, 24, stands 1.86 metres tall [6ft 1in] and used her height to serve more aces than any other player on the WTA Tour last year.

Veteran Strycova may be just 1.64 metres [5ft 4 1/2in] but she scampers around the court sliding and diving to retrieve balls other players give up.

There was nothing to separate them in the first set, where neither’s serve could be broken, and as it moved inevitably towards a tiebreak, some good fortune twisted it in Strycova’s favour after Pliskova double-faulted by way of a netcord before a Strycova forehand jumped over her racket courtesy of the same.

In the tiebreak Pliskova netted a backhand on Strycova’s second set point to concede it 7-5 after 69 minutes of attritional tennis.

“The first set took away from me a lot of power, but I was much more aggressive after that,” Pliskova admitted.

Strycova, at 31 the second-oldest woman left in the draw, looked more than capable of handling the clean ball-striking of her taller and younger opponent, with her experience and court craft able to subdue the Pliskova power game early.

Pliskova also appeared to be playing a little within herself, passing up the opportunity to be more imposing, especially on the Strycova second serve.

With Strycova’s former coach Thomas Krupa now by Pliskova’s side for the first time in a major, the World No 6 remained calm despite the initial deficit, and a loose game from Strycova to open the second set gave her the advantage, as Pliskova began to move up on the baseline and take time away from her opponent.

It served to fire up Pliskova, who made the first service break in the first game of the second set and began to negate Strycova’s all-action approach before securing the set 6-3.

A second break gave Pliskova some significant breathing space, and while Strycova battled valiantly to bridge the gap, she quickly levelled proceedings at one set apiece.

“The quick break at the start of the second set helped me,” said Pliskova.

Barbora Strycova lies on the court after falling in her fourth round defeat

The battle between the two former Australian Open junior champions (Pliskova won in 2010 and Strycova consecutively in 2002-03) continued into the deciding set.

They traded breaks in the opening two games, but Pliskova continued to look the forerunner, finally finding her rhythm and breaking down the Strycova game, which had held up so well to this point.

As the clock ticked past 1:00 am in Melbourne it was Pliskova who made the move, going up 3-1 in the decider as Strycova’s first serve deserted her.

Strycova saved one match point with an audacious serve-volley and a second with an overhead smash before the 20th seed surrendered by clubbing a backhand over the baseline to send Pliskova off on a date with the World No 1.

“The last [time] we played in Paris, I think, it was very close,” Pliskova said of the prospects of meeting Halep for a place in the semi-final.

“I think the first set was very close, but I needed to step up and be more aggressive,” the tall 25-year-old added in the on-court interview.

“I was playing fine the other two sets. On this surface I have a chance [against Halep].”

Pliskova will try to record her best result in Melbourne and reach a semi-final against the top seed.

Meanwhile, Strycova’s hopes remain in the women’s doubles, where she will compete in a quarter-final with another fellow Czech, Lucie Safarova, who is looking to defend her crown from last year which she earned with American Bethanie Mattek-Sands.

As for Halep, she didn’t mind who she plays: “Well, both of them are very tough. Even if I played with big hitters this tournament, Pliskova is always dangerous. She’s playing great these days,” she said leaving for the night.

“With Strycova, I played a few times. Was tough because I have to run a lot. So I’m looking forward to playing the quarter-finals again.”

Halep, who reached the same stage in 2014 and 2015, added: “Third time lucky, maybe.”




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