Pliskova hoping experience pays off
Karolina Pliskova and Magda Linette meet in a Wednesday quarterfinal match at the Australian Open. Though they are both 30 years old, Pliskova has a vast edge in one critical category — the second-week wisdom accrued in Grand Slam events.
“It’s like two tournaments because the first one is so many people around,” Pliskova said after defeating Zhang Shuai in the third round. “You just may be a bit more nervous. You just want to make it a lot to the second week. The first rounds are not the best matches of the tournament. Later, you’re playing tougher opponents.”
The Czech Republic athlete reached the finals of the 2016 US Open, the semifinals in Melbourne three years later and a second major final in 2021 at Wimbledon.
“It can help, the experience, but also I feel like there are so many young girls which they never been there,” Pliskova said. “They can also feel a bit more free without the pressure, like nobody expect them to actually be there.
“But, of course, I think the experience from the second week can be a bit helpful.”
Linette is an interesting case. In 29 previous major main draws, she never advanced past the third round. Now she’s gone two better and is 4-0. She says her success late last year has carried over. After a string of impressive results — including the Chennai final — she defeated Madison Keys and Pliskova in the Billie Jean King Cup. A few weeks ago, she went 3-1 in United Cup play.
Day 9 from the Australian Open
“I did not stop for as long as usually I would,” Linette told reporters. “That was something nice because I felt I did not really kind of go out of competition. It really was very short time. Then we did a little bit easier preseason than usual.”
Here’s a closer look at Wednesday’s two quarterfinals from the bottom half of the draw:
No.30 Karolina Pliskova vs. Magda Linette (Wednesday, 11 a.m. local)
This is not the Polish woman folks expected to see in the quarterfinals.
“You would assume that Iga would be there,” Linette said. “Didn’t happen.”
Indeed, top-ranked Iga Swiatek was upset in the fourth round by Elena Rybakina.
Linette is part of the chaos that visited the bottom half of the draw. No.5 Sabalenka is the only player to uphold her seed and advance to the quarters. No.4 Caroline Garcia, No.8 Daria Kasatkina and No.9 Veronika Kudermetova are all gone. Linette was responsible for taking out Garcia in a rousing 7-6 (3), 6-4 fourth-round match.
Pliskova, meanwhile, was a 6-0, 6-4 winner over No.23 Zhang, marking the eighth time she’s beat the Chinese player in eight tries.
It’s been a welcome renaissance for Pliskova, a former World No.1, who one year ago had a cast on her right hand. It was the beginning of a long, trying season that ended with her ranking outside the Top 10 for the first time in seven years.
“Amazing just to be here because I was really, really sad last year that I missed especially this part of the season,” Pliskova said. “The second part of the year started to be much better. I continue kind of playing how I was playing in the U.S. swing.”
After previously winning only two major main-draw matches in 2022, Pliskova got to the quarters at the US Open. Only Pliskova, Sabalenka and Jessica Pegula (who lost Tuesday against Victoria Azarenka) repeated their US Open quarterfinal efforts here in Melbourne.
The head-to-head is not as one-sided as it might appear. Pliskova won six of the first seven matches between 2012-17, but Linette has shown better efforts in the two most recent. Pliskova won their first-round match at last year’s US Open — in a third-set tiebreak. Linette handled Pliskova 6-4, 6-1 in that Billie Jean King Cup match back in November.
“I think she really improved her game a lot,” Pliskova said. “She start to believe. Of course you can see that. She’s a fighter, playing really good game from the baseline. I just can’t give her the time and that game what she wants to play.”
No.5 Aryna Sabalenka vs. Donna Vekic, not before 1 p.m.
Sabalenka (8-0) and Vekic (7-0) are the only undefeated players left in the draw, so something’s got to give.
Although Vekic is ranked 59 spots lower, she has a surprising 5-1 edge head-to-head going back to ITF events and qualifying draws. Most recently, Vekic defeated Sabalenka in the 2021 Olympics and in last year’s San Diego quarterfinal. Vekic, along with Kiki Bertens, has recorded the most wins over Sabalenka of any player.
That said, Sabalenka is playing some terrific tennis. She defeated No.12 seed Belinda Bencic 7-5, 6-2 in the third round. This is her fourth major quarterfinal in the last six Grand Slam events she’s played — and a win over Vekic would vault her into a fourth semifinal.
Patience, it seems, has become one of her virtues.
“I’m just trying to stay calm on court and just wait for the opportunities, just try to, if I have it, take it,” Sabalenka said. “I would say that I’m trying to be really professional on the court, do everything I can every match. Like, no easy wins for my opponents.”
She’s cleaned up the double faults that plagued her a year ago; she’s averaging only 4.1 per match, nearly 50 percent less than last year.
Vekic got here with a muscular 6-2, 1-6, 6-3 victory over 17-year-old Linda Fruhvirtova. She’s won her past 13 matches when she wins the first set. It’s the second Grand Slam quarterfinal, to go with her run at the 2019 US Open.
Not bad for a player who twice declared she was retiring from tennis.
“After 2021 Australian Open, I had the surgery on my knee,” Vekic said. “The whole year I was struggling, still had pain. After Australia last year I had to take another couple of months off again for the knee. It was just a battle.
“I’ve read on Twitter that [Sabalenka’s] playing maybe the best tennis on the women’s side this Australian Open. I have a great head-to-head with her. All of our matches have been really tough, so I’m sure next one will be, as well.”
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