Pliskova Shows She’s In The Mix And A Serious Contender To Win Wimbledon

LONDON, July 3, 2019 (by Michael Dickens)

World No. 3 and third seed Karolina Pliskova had never lost to Monica Puig in four matches going back to 2012, including their only prior grass-court encounter which Pliskova won 6-2, 6-2 in the 2016 Nottingham semifinals. Coming into their fifth meeting, at the Wimbledon Championships, Pliskova’s also going about her business of putting together a career-best season, in which she’s advanced to the quarterfinals or better in all 11 tournaments she’s played in this year.

So, it should come as little surprise that Pliskova would beat Puig, her outmatched opponent from Puerto Rico, 6-0, 6-4 in just an hour, when they met on Centre Court Wednesday afternoon.

Puig looked overwhelmed by the aura of the big stage, dropping the first set 6-0 in just 20 minutes. The second set didn’t go much better for the 2016 Rio Olympics singles gold medalist, who was broken in the fourth game by the recent Eastbourne champion, and never quite recovered. Pliskova showed tremendous grass court ability and spark – ignited by nine service aces – and won easily. It was a comprehensive performance by Pliskova, which included 23 winners, just six unforced errors, no double faults, and five breaks of Puig’s serve. The Czech has won seven straight matches and garnered titles on three different surfaces this year.

“My serve was working and I hit the ball cleanly,” Pliskova said, after moving into the third round for just the second time in her eighth Wimbledon appearance. “For sure, my serve is somehow working. Also the second serve. That obviously is 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.”

As Pliskova left Centre Court, she told the BBC, “I’m feeling more confident and getting used to the surface. I feel like I improve also from the first round (when) I was a little bit nervous. I was feeling good today. Hopefully it can be better again in the third round.

“The players are going to get better. It’s not going to get any easier.”

Next, Pliskova will face No. 28 seed Hsieh Su-Wei of Taiwan, who advanced over No. 103 Kirsten Flipkens of Belgium, 7-6 (3), 6-3, in one hour and 16 minutes on Court 18. Hsieh upset then-No. 1 Simona Halep to reach the fourth round of the 2018 Championships.

Until reaching the fourth round last year, Pliskova had never progressed beyond two rounds at the All England Club. However, after two impressive wins to begin the 2019 fortnight, the native of Louny, Czech Republic, showed she’s in the mix and a serious contender for the Venus Rosewater Dish trophy, which goes to the women’s champion.

Former No. 1 Azarenka on a mission

Victoria Azarenka won 12 straight games and became the first to advance to the women’s third round at the Championships on Wednesday.

The 40th-ranked native of Belarus, a former World No. 1 and twice a Grand Slam champion, needed just 63 minutes to defeat No. 49 Ajla Tomljanovic of Australia, 6-2, 6-0. The two-time Wimbledon semifinalist has not lost to a player ranked outside the Top 25 since February.

After trailing 0-2 at the start, Azarenka didn’t lose another game during the match played on Court 12. She was solid in winning 70 percent (21 of 30) of her first-serve points, broke her opponent six times, and caused Tomljanovic to commit 21 unforced errors. Azarenka outpointed Tomljanovic 59-32 to advance against No. 7 seed Simona Halep of Romania.

Azarenka was asked during her press conference to describe a quality about her next opponent. She said Halep was “very consistent. She’s a smart player who moves well from the baseline and hits a lot of balls back. She’s definitely a tough opponent who knows how to play big matches. It’s going to be exciting.”

Halep always the fighter

On No. 2 Court, Halep faced her countrywoman, 53rd-ranked Mihaela Buzarnescu, and won 6-3, 4-6, 6-2 in one hour and 51 minutes. It was the first time that Halep had faced a fellow Romanian in a Grand Slam match. Always the fighter and counterpuncher, Halep wrapped up her second-round victory against the lefty Buzarnescu with a crisp cross-court forehand winner, one of 11 she amassed on the day, as she won the final eight points of the match.

After overcoming an injury scare during her opening-round win against Aliaksandra Sasnovich on Monday, in which Halep later told the press that she felt the muscle behind her knee “a bit stretched,” Halep moved about the court against Buzarnescu without any showing any discomfort.

After her win Wednesday, Halep was quoted by Wimbledon.com as saying “I think I’m playing OK,” she said. “It’s always tough on grass. But it was a tougher match than the first one, so it was good that I could win it. I felt confident on court. I felt also strong mentally.”

Gauff remains calm under pressure

Unseeded 15-year-old qualifier Cori “Coco” Gauff of the United States advanced to the third round in her first Wimbledon main draw with a 6-3, 6-3 win over No. 139 Magdalena Rybarikova of Slovakia on No. 1 Court with the roof closed Wednesday night.

As she did when she beat her idol, 39-year-old five-time Wimbledon singles champion Venus Williams, on Monday, Gauff showed much poise and confidence during her one hour and nine minute match that was moved from No. 2 Court. She hit 18 winners, committed just 10 unforced errors, lost only five points on her first serve, and faced no break points against Rybarikova.

During a brief post-match interview with the BBC, Gauff said, “I think I played well especially during pressure points tonight.

“I’ve definitely been able to relax. There’s so much going on. I’m still shocked about being here.”

Next, Gauff will face 60th-ranked Polona Hercog of Slovenia in the third round on Friday.

Around the All England Club

• No. 8 seed Elina Svitolina from Ukraine escaped defeat when her opponent, 62nd-ranked Margarita Gasparyan of Russia, had to retire due to a left leg injury late in the second set. Svitolina trailed 5-7, 4-5, 15-30 on serve – and faced a match point – before holding serve during the lengthy 10-point tenth game.

However, with Gasparyan serving at 0-30 in the next game, she landed awkwardly on her left leg at the end of her service motion, immediately collapsing to the turf in severe pain. Following a five-minute medical timeout, the Russian attempted to soldier on despite playing in appreciable discomfort. She quickly dropped serve for 5-6 and retired four points later in tears.

Gasparyan, who underwent three knee surgeries and missed 18 months of competition in 2016-17, beat Svitolina on grass in Birmingham two weeks ago.

“Honestly, I was a little bit shocked. It’s never nice to get this when someone is injured like that. It puts you a little bit off,” said Svitolina during her post-match remarks. “At the end, we’d expect that she would go and play. It happened that way and really unfortunate for her.”

On Friday, Svitolina will face No. 31 seed Maria Sakkari of Greece, who won eight of her last nine games to defeat No. 115 lucky loser Marie Bouzkova of Czech Republic, 6-4, 6-1, in one hour and six minutes on Court 14. Sakkari won 78 percent of her first-serve points and hit 26 winners against the overmatched Bouzkova to reach the third round at Wimbledon for the second time.

“I’ve learned not to be hard on myself, to stay positive,” said Sakkari during an interview with ESPN following her second-round victory. “Every match has a different difficultly. I’m going to approach my next match (with Svitolina) with confidence.”

• No. 12 seed Anastasija Sevastova of Latvia lost to 34th-ranked Danielle Collins of the United States, 4-6, 6-4, 6-3, in one hour and 52 minutes on Court 12. After taking a 4-0 lead in the final set, Collins held off Sevastova and won the last two games. She finished with 33 winners and broke Sevastova seven times. Next, she’ll face No. 24 seed Petra Martic.

• No. 14 Caroline Wozniacki of Denmark advanced with a solid performance over 59th-ranked Veronika Kudermetova of Russia, 7-6 (5), 6-3, thanks to facing no break points on her serve and hitting just six unforced errors. Next, Wozniacki will face No. 50 Zhang Shuai of China, a 6-3, 6-2 winner over No. 148 qualifier Yanina Wickmayer of Belgium.

• No. 17 seed Madison Keys of the United States was upset by 60th-ranked Polona Hercog of Slovenia, 6-2, 6-4, in 71 minutes on No. 3 Court. Keys, who committed 32 unforced errors while hitting just 12 winners, is the highest-ranked player that Hercog has beaten this season.

• No. 20 seed Anett Kontaveit of Estonia advanced over No. 122 Heather Watson of Great Britain, 7-5, 6-1, on No. 1 Court. Afterward, Kontaveit told the BBC, “It was really tough out there, I’m glad to win today. It was nice playing in front of a big crowd. They were supporting Heather, but I’m glad to get through.”

Next, Kontaveit will face 68th-ranked Karolina Muchova of Czech Republic, who defeated Madison Brengle of the United States, ranked 85th, 6-3, 6-4.

• No. 24 seed Petra Martic of Croatia needed to go the distance against 71st-ranked Anastasia Potapova of Russia, but prevailed 3-6, 6-3, 6-4 in two hours and 13 minutes on Court 16. She overcame 37 unforced errors by hitting 25 winners and closed out the match with a love game to move into the third round against unseeded Danielle Collins.

• No. 27 seed Sofia Kenin lost to 35th-ranked Dayana Yastremska of Ukraine, 7-5, 4-6, 6-3, on Court 18. Next, Yastremska will oppose 81st-ranked Viktorija Golubic of Switzerland, who advanced over Yulia Putintseva of Kazakhstan, ranked 39th, 6-4, 7-6 (3). It was Putintseva who upset No. 2 seed Naomi Osaka on Opening Day Monday.

• Doubles No. 1 seeds Timea Babos of Hungary and Kristina Mladenovic of France, who won last month’s French Open title, won their first-round match over Americans Jessica Pegula and Maria Sanchez, 6-4, 3-6, 6-2.

• On her day off from singles, World No. 1 Ashleigh Barty teamed with Victoria Azarenka to win their first-round doubles match against Lidziya Marozava of Belarus and Storm Sanders of Australia, 6-0, 6-1. “I love doubles,” said Barty during her Tuesday press conference after winning her first-round singles match. “I’ve always tried to play doubles when I can. For me, it keeps in a routine of playing matches. If the schedule kind of words in your favor, you can go day on/day off with singles and doubles. Playing competition is why we love this sport. It’s much more fun than being out on the practice court.”

Is it Sir-ena, S-andy, or simply Serena and Andy?

Multiple sources confirmed Tuesday night that Wimbledon champions Andy Murray of Great Britain and Serena Williams of the United States will pair in mixed doubles at this year’s Wimbledon fortnight. It became official about 9:30 a.m. on Wednesday when Murray formally signed the mixed doubles entry list at the Referee’s Office in the the Centre Court complex, 90 minutes ahead of the 11 a.m. deadline.

Later in the day, they were drawn against Andreas Mies of Germany, who last month won the men’s doubles title at Roland Garros with countryman Kevin Krawietz, and Alexa Guarachi of Chile. Murray and Williams could play top seeds Bruno Soares of Brazil and Nicole Melichar of the United States in the third round.

Murray, twice a Wimbledon singles champion will compete in both men’s and mixed doubles less than a month after returning following hip surgery. He is teaming with Pierre-Hugues Herbert in men’s doubles. Last month he won the doubles title at Queen’s Club in London with Feliciano Lopez.

Although Murray was earlier turned down by World No. 1 Ashleigh Barty, he and Williams, who has won seven doubles titles at Wimbledon, will make a formidable pair.

Twitter lit up early Tuesday evening with a variety of posts, including this one from New York Times tennis correspondent Ben Rothenberg: “Again, they dance. #Wimbledon” It was accompanied by a photo of Murray and Williams together, taken during the 2016 Wimbledon champions ball, dressed in formal wear and holding their respective trophies.

Murray told BBC Sport, “Serena is obviously a brilliant player, has a great doubles record and is brilliant on grass obviously. She’s arguably the best player ever. … So, she’d be a solid partner.”

During her press conference Tuesday after defeating qualifier Giulia Gatto-Monticone of Italy on Centre Court, Williams said, “He and I are a lot alike on the court. I’ve always liked that about him. His work ethic is just honestly off the charts. That’s something I’ve always respected about him. His fitness. To do what he’s done in an era where there’s so many other great mails tennis players, so much competition, to rise above it, not many people have done it. He’s actually one of the few.

“There’s so many things to be admired. Above all, he really stands out and speaks up about women’s issues no matter what. You can tell he has a really strong woman in his life. I think above all that is just fantastic.”

Murray previously played mixed doubles at Wimbledon where he teamed up with Kirsten Flipkens of Belgium and reached the second round in 2006. He was also a silver medalist with Laura Robson in the 2012 London Olympics. Williams is twice a mixed doubles Grand Slam champion, having partnered with Max Mirnyi to win both Wimbledon and the U.S. Open in 1998, when she was 16.

“They can definitely win the title, there’s no question,” said BBC Sport’s Annabel Croft, quoted by the Wimbledon website. “The powerhouse of Serena with her massive serve and returns, and what Andy brings with his touch, feel and finesse, not to mention his own amazing returns. … We’re going to see two of the best returners the game has ever seen, on court together. It’s going to be extraordinary.”

Historic win under No. 1 Court roof

On Tuesday night, American Alison Riske became the first player to win a match under the new No. 1 Court roof. With her first-round match against No. 22 seed Donna Vekic of Croatia deep in the third set, tied at 5-all – and darkness settling in – the roof was closed about 9:15 p.m. The 55th-ranked Riske, who earlier this year won grass-court tournaments at Surbiton and ‘s-Hertogenbosch, went on to beat Vekic, 3-6, 6-3, 7-5. The match ended at 9:30 p.m.

Now it can be told

The Duchess of Cambridge, who is a Patron of Wimbledon, visited The Championships on Tuesday. In addition to watching play from the Royal Box at the All England Club, Her Royal Highness also watched Great Britain’s Harriet Dart against Christina McHale of the United States on Court 14, where she was joined by Dart’s British Fed Cup teammate Katie Boulter and Great Britain’s Fed Cup team captain Anne Keothavong.

What they’re saying

World No. 1 Ashleigh Barty on the pressure that comes with being No. 1: “I think for me it’s a little bit irrelevant. The only pressure I have is what I put on myself, making sure I’m doing all the right things, preparing in the right way. Ultimately when we play our matches, we go out there and enjoy it. That’s why we do all the work, all the practices, to go out there and enjoy competing. … Just play each match as it comes. There’s certainly no extra stresses on any match.”

Looking ahead

No. 19 seed Johanna Konta of Great Britain earned a coveted Centre Court assignment for Thursday. She will face 38th-ranked Katerina Siniakova of Czech Republic in the second match of the day from 1 p.m. Meanwhile, No. 6 seed Petra Kvitova of Czech Republic leads off play on No. 1 Court against Kristina Mladenovic of France, ranked 48th, at 1 p.m. Later, 11th seed Serena Williams of the United States, in pursuit of her 24th Grand Slam singles title, will face No. 133 qualifier Kaja Juvan of Slovenia in the last match of the day on No. 1 Court. Meanwhile, World No. 1 and women’s top seed Ashleigh Barty of Australia plays in the opening match on No. 2 Court against 58th-ranked Alison Van Uytvanck of Belgium at 11 a.m.