Henry Wancke | 9th Mar 2020 | 0
Wimbledon | Pliskova and Azarenka cruise into third round
Karolina Pliskova is warning her rivals that she is ‘improving every day on grass’ after the 3rd seed booked her place in the Wimbledon third round with an impressive 6-0 6-4 win over Monica Puig on Wednesday.
I feel like I'm improving every day on grass. The title in Eastbourne helped me feel more confident and to get more used to the surface Karolina Pliskova
The tall Czech won the title at Eastbourne last week and is once again considered one of the leading contenders at the All England Club.
There is a curious anomaly in Pliskova’s All England Club track record, having contested 6 straight Wimbledons before progressing beyond the second round.
After halting that hoodoo with a 4th round run at the 2018 Championships, the big serving Czech was clearly intent on further erasing the statistic as she eliminated Monica Puig in straight sets to progress to this year’s third round.
“I feel like I’m improving every day on grass,” said Pliskova. “The title in Eastbourne helped me feel more confident and to get more used to the surface.”
If Pliskova was hoping her success at Eastbourne would easily translate to a Wimbledon title, she will have to buck recent trends as fellow Czech Jana Novotna was the last woman to have pulled off that feat 21 years ago.
All business as she faced the 2016 Rio Olympics singles Gold medallist, Pliskova quickly stamped out any hint of trouble with her power hitting and tremendous serve.
The Czech accumulated 9 aces and 23 total winners in her one-hour victory, her dominance also underlined by just 6 unforced errors and not a single double fault.
Puig, by contrast, had 22 errors to only 7 winners, the Puerto Rican quickly unravelling amid Pliskova’s imperious form.
The Centre Court crowd having barely settled into their seats, Pliskova charged through all 6 games to secure the set in just 20 minutes.
Watched on by former Formula One driver David Coulthard from the Royal Box, the 3rd seed appeared to be in the fast lane to victory as she dropped only 2 points on serve to zoom through the first set.
At the other end of Centre Court, a double fault on set point summed up the kind of difficult day Olympic champion Puig was having to endure.
But just when it seemed the race was on for Pliskova to produce the first double bagel of this year’s championships, the Puerto Rican drew a prolonged round of sympathetic applause as she finally won a game in the second game of the second set.
While Puig had made it on to the scoreboard to the delight of a cheering Centre Court crowd, Pliskova’s victory was largely straightforward from there.
She secured another break of serve in the 4th game and suffered her only glitch when she dropped her own serve as she closed in on victory at 5-3.
It was a temporary glitch, the Czech completing a commanding performance with her 5th break of Puig’s serve.
A 7th straight match win continued some stunning grass court momentum for the big-hitting Pliskova, who defeated Angelique Kerber in the final to claim her second Eastbourne title last week.
“I think, everything,” said the 27-year-old, when asked what’s working best in her current fine form.
“For sure my serve is somehow working. Also the second serve. That’s obviously a big help.
“Of course, the movement on grass has to be much better than sometimes on the other surfaces. I’m feeling like I’m quite low on a lot of balls.
“I think I was just, since Eastbourne, starting to play well. Feel much better on the court. Of course, with the confidence, which I have, it’s going little bit easier.”
Pliskova and her coach Conchita Martinez, the 1994 Wimbledon champion, appreciate that the challenge only intensifies from here.
The Czech’s third-round opponent is the crafty Su-Wei Hsieh, who upset World No 1 Simona Halep to reach the fourth round of the 2018 Championships.
Adding further intrigue, Hsieh beat Pliskova in the Dubai quarter-finals earlier this year after the Czech held a 5-1 lead in the final set.
The Czech, however, is quietly assembling a career-best season, having advanced to at least the quarter-finals in the 11 tournaments she has contested so far, plus 5 semi-final showings and 3 titles this year.
Pliskova is showing why she is considered as one of the front runners for this year’s Wimbledon crown and could well topple Ash Barty from the WTA rankings summit if she reaches the latter stages of the grass court major.
On this day, she was not exactly in a charitable mood., though, as she broke Puig to go 3-1 ahead and served for the match at 5-3.
Being on the edge of defeat allowed Puig to come out swinging in the 9th game as she broke Pliskova, but any glimmer of hope was quickly snuffed out.
“The deeper you go, the better players you play so it’s not going to be easy here,” said Pliskova, whose only defeat on grass this season was against her twin Kristyna in the last 16 in Birmingham.
Pliskova is one of 4 former WTA No 1s in action on Wednesday.
Belarussian Victoria Azarenka was even more ruthless than Pliskova as she dished out a 6-2 6-0 mauling to Australia’s Ajla Tomljanovic.
After a promising start, Tomljanovic was unable to cope with the Belarusian’s firepower from the back of the court.
Tomljanovic broke Azarenka to gain a 2-0 lead in the opening set, only to lose the next 12 games as the 2-time Australian Open champion raced into the last 32.
Despite the defeat, 25-year-old Tomljanovic is set to climb to No 40 in the world after the tournament, just one place below her career-high ranking, after reaching the second round at Wimbledon for the first time since 2015.
Azarenka, who is partnering Barty in the doubles at the All England Club this year, will play fellow former World No 1 Simona Halep, a winner in three sets over another Romanian in Mihaela Buzarnescu on Friday as she continues her two-pronged title assault.
Meanwhile, 8th-seeded Elina Svitolina dropped a tight first set to Margarita Gasparyan out on Court 3 and was staring at possible defeat when, in the 11th game of the second set, the Russian’s challenge came to an abrupt end after she landed awkwardly on her serve.
The World No 62 had effectively outplayed the Ukrainian before the incident at 5-5 in the second set that resulted in the tearful player retiring with the score at 5-7 6-5.
Gasparyan, 24, was a rising star before her career was halted by a knee injury and her hopes of claiming the Ukrainian scalp faded in disappointment.
She had dominated her opponent for much of the match, hitting 42 winners compared to Svitolina’s 15.
Having won the first set, the Russian had chances to break the Ukrainian in the 10th game of the next set before the unfortunate incident in the following game scuppered her chances.
At first, Gasparyan appeared to have cramp as she lay down on the court in pain and in tears.
She received treatment and continued to serve but winced as she bent down to meet Svitolina’s low returns and was eventually broken.
The Russian signalled that she could not continue upon receiving more medical attention and left the court in tears to a standing ovation.
Later Svitolina admitted the situation ‘wasn’t very nice’.
“Well, honestly, I was a little bit shocked,” she said when asked for her reaction to her unorthodox victory. “Yeah, it’s never nice to get this when someone is injured like that. It puts you a little bit off.
“I mean, at the end we’d expect that she would go and play. Yeah, it happened that way and really unfortunate for her.
“I gave her some water, because I know when there is cramps you need to drink lots of water. Your muscles are contracting. So it’s important just to drink lots of fluids.
“So that’s why I gave her some water, because no one really did anything. I mean, we were trying to help, but, yeah, it’s tough to react straightaway.”
It is only the second time in 8 appearances that Svitolina has reached the 3rd round at the All England Club, her best result was reaching the 4th round in 2017.