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Pliskova pushes on after straight-sets win

Karolína Pliskova’s power hitting dominated the marquee first match at Rod Laver Arena, the No.2 seed blasting through Kristina Mladenovic 6-1 7-5.

“I think it was [a] very tough first round, but good test to start with such a tough opponent,” Pliskova said after her victory over the world No.41.

MORE: AO2020 women’s draw

The languid Czech with the easy power and wolf-grey eyes has her sights set on a breakthrough Grand Slam, hoping to shed the unwanted tag of the best player without a major title. She made a ferocious start on Tuesday.

Pliskova sprang to 2-0 without dropping a point, wiped two break point chances to hold for 3-0 and by the time she secured a double break for 4-0 there were signs of panic from the Frenchwoman, whose parents and brother were nervous spectators.

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21 Jan 20
Kristina Mladenovic vs. Karolina Pliskova - Match Highlights (R1) | Australian Open 2020

Brisk Pliskova moves past Mladenovic

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Boasting arguably the best first-serve, first-stroke combo in the game, Pliskova snapped up the set 6-1 in 25 minutes, blasting nine winners to one.

Coming off a third Brisbane title, Pliskova thrives in Australia, site of her best major performance of 2019, when she was shaded by eventual champion Naomi Osaka in the semis but only after overcoming Serena Williams in a dramatic quarterfinal, from four match points and 5-1 down in the third set.

In contrast, the AO is mysteriously Mladenovic’s least successful major in singles - with four wins from nine appearances - though she was a doubles champion and finalist at Melbourne Park in 2018 and 2019 respectively.

After the blowout first set, it was hard to compute that this was the same Mladenovic who ripped the Fed Cup final from the Australians at Perth last November. The 26-year-old won all three rubbers, against Ajla Tomljanovic, a tide-turning thriller against No.1 Ash Barty, and the decisive doubles. 

But the statuesque all-courtier has since endured an unsettled start to the year, losing in qualifying at Brisbane, pulling out of the doubles semifinal to contest Adelaide qualifying, only to be barred from entering.

A former doubles No.1, Mladenovic is one of the few players who enjoys venturing forward and chancing her arm at the net. The question was whether Pliskova’s heavy baseline artillery would allow her to create chances in the forecourt.

Mladenovic stiffened her resistance in the second set, saving a breakpoint to hold the opening game and threatening to break the Czech’s serve at 2-1 with a delicate drop shot winner. Pliskova, who had fallen off her cracking pace, held with thunderous serving and then seemed to have the match in hand when she broke to lead 4-3, two service games from the win.

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Kristina Mladenovic in action on Tuesday

Out of nowhere, Pliskova gave back the advantage, Mladenovic varying the pace and loop on her shots enough to draw an error and level for 4-4, her first break.

Pliskova, who could have been serving for the match, instead found herself serving at 4-5 to save the set. She held an imperious game to love and moved ahead 6-5 when Mladenovic conceded her serve on a double fault. The Czech herself double faulted to fall behind 0-30 but served out the victory in 84 minutes.

Pliskova was right to be wary of Mladenovic. They were locked at 2-2 in previous matches though this was their first meeting in a major. The Czech won a torrid 2016 Fed Cup final clash 16-14 in the third, and perhaps some feeling from that meeting resurfaced when Pliskova, asked about the form of Mladenovic on the eve of the tournament, said coolly: “I don’t know actually in which form she is in right now. I know it’s going to be a lot about me. Even if she’s playing great, I think I can still beat her.” So she proved.

“Well done, Karolina, Melbourne loves you!” shouted a fan courtside, while the relieved winner lifted her racquet in acknowledgement. Melbourne is already a favourite stop for the 27-year-old, though it would top her cities ranking if she were to clinch her first major here.

Pliskova moves on to face the winner of Laura Siegemund and wildcard Coco Vandeweghe.

Brisk Pliskova moves past Mladenovic

Video