Women's wrap, Day 6: Pliskova bounced, tears from Vekic

  • Dan Imhoff

There are no secrets when good friends and quarantine training partners Karolina Pliskova and Karolina Muchova take the court – and as it turns out, nowhere to hide when the chips are down.

MORE: All the results from Day 6

The 25th seed Muchova claimed the battle of the Czech Karolinas to reach the Australian Open fourth round on Saturday 7-5 7-5, but not before withstanding Pliskova’s mid-match resurgence, the result of a tunnel boilover reported to the chair umpire.

It set a showdown against 18th seed Elise Mertens, while there were wins too for fifth seed Elina Svitolina, Donna Vekic, Jennifer Brady, Shelby Rogers and Jessica Pegula.

Elise Mertens came out on top against Belinda Bencic

In the first match on a crowdless Rod Laver Arena due to Victoria’s snap five-day coronavirus lockdown, there was a sense of déjà vu for Muchova and Pliskova.

The pair had practised together while confined to the Czech Republic for a lengthy stretch last year and trained daily for two weeks during their Australian quarantine stint.

On match day, it was Muchova who kept a handle on the fast-swinging momentum shifts to reach the second week at a major for the third time.

“I’m a little sad, you know, we are very good friends, but it’s a game so I’m definitely happy I made it through in two sets,” Muchova said.

“I think we were both a little nervous. I must say that when we played in practice in quarantine it was a different level but I’m happy I’m through.”

Karolina Pliskova looked deflated after her match on Rod Laver Arena

It was the pair’s third meeting at a major, after Pliskova claimed the honours in the first round of AO2019 before Muchova emerged triumphant 13-11 in the deciding set of a fourth-round Wimbledon encounter later that year.

The typically clean-striking duo grappled to find any consistency throughout their fourth Grand Slam tussle in Melbourn as a string of breaks blighted a patchy opening set.

Normally a languid character, Pliskova was incensed at having conceded the set 7-5 and took a bathroom break only to be handed a code violation for racquet abuse upon her return.

The official who escorted her off court reported a racquet smash in the player tunnel and the sixth seed was docked the opening point of the second set. It only served to fire her up.

She reeled off five straight games in 10 minutes and a third set looked assured before it all unravelled.

Muchova pegged back the deficit, saved two set points in the process, and sealed her passage after an hour and 55 minutes.

“I think [the self-belief] came with the work and matches. It’s a long way,” Muchova said. “I had a good run at Wimbledon, good run at the US Open and it definitely gave me confidence that I can play these players. It’s everything about believing in yourself.”

Pliskova conceded she lacked conviction throughout her Australian summer campaign and was unable to make the most of her opportunities.

“I don't think I was playing really amazing. The feeling was not great from any of the matches here,” she said. “I think overall too many mistakes, too much like panic in the rallies.”

Eighteenth seed Mertens later reached the second week of a major for the eighth time following a 6-2 6-1 victory over 11th seed Belinda Bencic.

MORE: Mertens, Svitolina among second-week AO stayers

The 25-year-old, who reached her sole Grand Slam semifinal at AO2018, needed little more than an hour to progress and fed off the thought of Belgians cheering her on in front of their televisions on a cold winter’s morning back home.

“My first serve was a big advantage when it was in. I just tried to stay in my bubble,” she said. “It's pretty sad that nobody can watch in the stadium but I know everybody's watching on TV so that gives me another boost to keep on playing.”

F_JBrady_Day 6 _13022021_03
Jennifer Brady collapses to the ground after her third-round win

Svitolina wins battle of childhood rivals

Fifth seed Elina Svitolina claimed a battle of childhood rivals in what loomed as a dangerous third-round encounter with the spritely Kazakh, Yulia Putintseva.

The Ukrainian extended her head-to-head record over the 26th seed to 6-2 after she recovered from a break down in the opening set to reel off nine-straight games.

Her 6-4 6-0 triumph came on the heels of a straight-sets win against rising American teenager Coco Gauff.

“Yeah I’ve known Yulia (Putintseva) for a very long time, we used to play when we were kids, under 10s, under 12s,” Svitolina said.

“I always expect a big battle from her. She’s a big fighter so I had to really play my best and in the end it was a good match today.

“Definitely I'm pleased with the performance I showed here.  I had some good matches as well in Abu Dhabi. I'm feeling strong ... but the tournament is still in the middle, so there's lots of matches, there's lots of challenges ahead of me.”

Svitolina will face 61st-ranked Jessica Pegula for a quarterfinal spot. The American landed her second victory in 13 days over Kristina Mladenovic to reach the round of 16 at a Grand Slam for the first time.

MORE: Pegula forges her own path

Elina Svitolina faces Jessica Pegula in the next round

Tearful Croat's brave win over Kanepi

Croat Donna Vekic came within a point of joining Estonian Kaia Kanepi’s growing list of recent victims on Friday before she pulled off a gutsy three-set comeback.

An emotional Vekic survived a power-hitting onslaught to reach the fourth round at the Australian Open for the first time 5-7 7-6(2) 6-4.

Kanepi, who reached the final of the Gippsland Trophy last Sunday, led a set and 3-0 and had a match point on the No.28 seed’s serve at 6-5 in the second set, but could not close it out.

“I was actually pretty p--ed that I was a match point down because the game before I had a couple of break points on her serve, and I thought I was playing better,” Vekic said.

“I thought the momentum was switching a little bit towards my side, so I was like, ‘OK, how am I a match point down? I don't want it to be over’.”

Vekic will face No.22 seed Jennifer Brady for a quarterfinal berth, following the American’s routine 6-1 6-3 victory over Slovenian qualifier Kaja Juvna.

Rogers extended Estonia’s misery later on Saturday, the 28-year-old recording a maiden career victory over 21st seed Anett Kontaveit, the American winning 6-4 6-3. 

Rogers, who has comfortably exceeded her previous best result in Melbourne of a second-round appearance in 2017, next faces top-seeded Australian Ashleigh Barty, who prevailed 6-2 6-4 over Russian 29th seed Ekaterina Alexandrova