Karolina Pliskova launches her bid for a first Dubai title on Wednesday when she takes on Frenchwoman, Kristina Mladenovic in the second round.
Pliskova vs Mladenovic is live from Dubai on Wednesday, 19 February from 2:00pm local time/ 10:00am GMT
Pliskova was a finalist in Dubai in 2015, when she lost to Simona Halep, but she has managed a very ordinary 3-3 win-loss record at the tournament since then. Pliskova failed to cross the opening round in 2016 and 2017, while she has made the quarter finals in each of the last two seasons, losing to Angelique Kerber and Su-Wei Hsieh in 2018 and 2019 respectively.
The Czech is playing her first tournament since the Australian Open, where she fell to Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova in the third round as her wait for a maiden major title continues. The world No. 3 is arguably the best player of her generation yet to win a Grand Slam title.
It seemed only a question of time when she reached the US Open final in 2016, but she is yet to return to a final since then, with her best efforts being semi-finals at Roland Garros in 2017 and at the 2019 Australian Open. While she impressed in reaching the last four in Melbourne last year, scoring a memorable come-from-behind victory over Serena Williams in the quarter finals, she struggled in other majors in 2019, failing to make a quarter final outside Melbourne.
However, she kept picking up titles on the regular WTA Tour, winning in Brisbane, Rome, Eastbourne and Zhengzhou; and making a final in Miami. She qualified for the season-ending WTA Finals for the third straight season, making the last four before falling to Ashleigh Barty.
The 27-year-old opened the new season by successfully defending her Brisbane title, beating Ajla Tomljanovic, Alison Riske, Naomi Osaka and Madison Keys, but she fell short again at Slam level, falling to Pavlyuchenkova in the Round of 32 in Melbourne.
She gets her next shot at a Slam at Roland Garros, but before then, all she can do is to keep producing on the regular tour, with her latest title quest being in Dubai this week. Pliskova got a bye into the second round, where she starts against Mladenovic on Wednesday.
After coming through three rounds of qualifying, Mladenovic opened her account with a 6-4 6-3 victory over Belarusian, Aliaksandra Sasnovich to score her first main draw victory of the season.
The Frenchwoman had lost main draw matches at the Australian Open and St. Petersburg, and failed to qualify for Brisbane in an extremely slow start to the year, but she’s found some form in Dubai, coming through a challenging qualifying route that included victories over Polona Hercog and Daria Kasatkina without dropping a set, before getting past fellow qualifier, Sasnovich on Tuesday.
Mladenovic trailed 3-1 in the opening set, but she soon found her range, winning eight of the next nine games to open up a 6-4 3-0 lead, an advantage she wouldn’t relinquish for the rest of the match. Mladenovic converted 74% of points on her first serve, and sealed victory on her third match point with a forehand winner after an hour and 33 minutes.
Mladenovic was a top-ten player as recently as January 2018, but her form over the last couple of seasons has been poor. She drifted to 68th on the rankings in March last season- her worst ranking in over four years- but she crept back up to 39th at the end of the season, with her best results being semi-finals in Zhengzhou and Moscow.
The 26-year-old will attempt to reach the third round in Dubai for the third time in the last four years when she faces Pliskova on Wednesday. It’s a repeat of their Australian Open first round meeting, which Pliskova won 6-1 7-5. Their head-to-head is quite tight, with Pliskova leading 3-2. One of Mladenovic’s wins was in Dubai in 2017.
Given the form the Frenchwoman has shown this week; a similar outcome isn’t off the cards at all. Mladenovic still possesses top-ten quality and remains very dangerous when she gets her serve and forehand going. She’s built up some confidence with four quality straight set wins this week, and could really stretch Pliskova, who has not played since Melbourne, on Wednesday.