While the No 2 seed at the Prague Open, Petra Martic, was upset in the second round on Wednesday by Kristyna Pliskova, the left-handed twin sister of Karolina, 6-1 7-5, who advances to the quarter-finals to meet Romania’s Ana Bogdan, Elise Mertens, the 3rd seed, came through a straight sets win over Camila Giorgi to secure her spot.
We grew up on clay, we practised on clay, we played every tournament on clay, and everybody was saying we would be better on grass or hard courts - but I was still thinking my preference was that it was slow. So then I started working a bit on the movement and other things, not just the serve and return - now I'm getting more confident on clay." Kristyna Pliskova
The Prague Open is the second European tournament since the WTA restarted amid the coronavirus pandemic, with strict health protocols in place.
Pliskova, ranked No 69 in the world, hit 9 aces and 28 winners on the way to her first win over her 14th-ranked opponent.
It is the 8th clay-court quarter-final for the hard-serving Czech since she was runner-up in Prague in 2017.
“I feel I’m playing better on clay each year,” Pliskova said. “Everybody was saying I cannot move and stuff, but I don’t think it’s like this.
“I have more time, so it’s good for me that clay is not that fast, I can focus on my game.
“We grew up on clay, we practised on clay, we played every tournament on clay, and everybody was saying we would be better on grass or hard courts – but I was still thinking my preference was that it was slow.
“So then I started working a bit on the movement and other things, not just the serve and return – now I’m getting more confident on clay.”
It took the home favourite a swift hour and 21 minutes to oust Martic, using her lefty serve to dominate proceedings, dropping 12 points in 10 service games and fending off all 3 break chances.
She struck 28 winners against 13 unforced errors, earning her 7th top-20 triumph in some style.
Martic simply could not match the Czech with those numbers, suffering 3 breaks and losing in straight sets despite a solid effort in the second set.
Keeping the rallies short, Pliskova claimed the first set in just over 20 minutes, serving well and earning breaks at 15 in games 2 and 6.
Raising her level, Martic fought better in the second, defending her serve more effectively and holding level with Pliskova in the first 10 games.
The Croat, however, wasted game points at 5-5, and suffered a break, which allowed Pliskova to seal the deal with a hold to 30 a few minutes later and head into the quarters.
Pliskova next faces Ana Bogdan, who advanced with a walkover after the Ukrainian qualifier Lesia Tsurenko withdrew.
Third-seeded Elise Mertens from Belgium edged last week’s Palermo semi-finalist from Italy, Camila Giorgi, 6-4 6-2, in 1 hour and 44 minutes to secure her spot in the Prague quarter-final.
Giorgi got the early break in the 2nd game to open up a 2-0 lead when Mertens hit her backhand into the net., but the Belgian struck back in the next game.
After Giorgi saved 2 break points in the 5th game, Mertens broke for the second time in an 8-deuce 7th to take a 4-3 lead, and then held on to next two deliveries to secure out the opener with a backhand pass.
She got the first break of the second set in the 3rd game to take a 2-1 lead but had to save 4 break-back points in the 6th before opening up a 4-2 lead and breaking serve again in the 7th game.
Mertens struck her 3rd ace on her first match point, setting up a quarter final clash against either Tamara Zidansek or Canadian wildcard Eugenie Bouchard, who play on Thursday.
It was a dogged performance from Mertens, who suffered an early loss in Palermo last week.
“I knew I needed to play a good game to beat her, because she played a couple of good matches last week so she had that kind of rhythm already,” Mertens said. “But I’m happy with my performance.
“I knew I had to play more aggressively, because she has those amazing strokes and also some mistakes.
“I had to stay focused to try to play my game and be sometimes more aggressive than her and really take the ball early.”
Giorgi’s bold shotmaking garnered her 16 winners in the first set but the Italian’s unforced errors repeatedly prevented her from gaining scoreboard momentum.
Mertens, by contrast, was rock solid, winning 85% of the points behind her first delivery and saving her best for key points, essaying a fine drop-shot-lob combination and outdoing Giorgi at net with a backhand pass to serve the set out.
“I think these days you have to attack the ball, not always and you have to have control and patience – but attack when you can,” Mertens said. “That’s what I tried to do today.
“You need to the whole package, but I would say being aggressive is the most important thing right now in women’s tennis.”
With the first act under her belt, Mertens piled on the pressure, reducing her unforced error count from 15 to 5 and allowing Giorgi even fewer chances as the Italian’s errors came thick and fast, eventually totalling 40 to 20 winners.
It is the third quarter-final of the year for the Belgian, who said she studied her first-round defeat at the Palermo Ladies Open in preparation before going into Prague.
“The first match in Palermo [against Aliaksandra Sasnovich], I was a little bit struggling because I didn’t play any real matches before,” Mertens explained. “So my coach said just focus more on yourself, even though also Sasnovich was playing really well.
“After that, I looked at the match again and got a feel for what I needed to do better.
“So I knew we needed to improve some things, not big things but just to get a bit more feel on the ball and better movement.
“So I had about a week to work on that, and the setup was perfect actually.”
Meanwhile, Simona Halep, who was not in singles action on Wednesday, continues to debate whether or not to play the US Open.
World No 1 Ashleigh Barty has already withdrawn from the hard court major in New York due to safety concerns, meaning Halep would be the top seed if she decides to play but it seems she still serious doubts about the whole thing and is no nearer a decision.
“The US Open? I haven’t made up my mind yet,” she told reporters after her three set win over Polona Hercog in Prague. “I will make a choice after the tournament.
“The situation is complicated and I am not yet 100% sure of what I will do.
“Honestly, I don’t know how to manage the come back to the court. The good thing is that we are all in the same situation.