World No. 2, Karolina Pliskova continues her Brisbane title defence on Friday when she squares off against Alison Riske in the quarter finals.
Pliskova is bidding for a third title in Brisbane, having first won the tournament in 2017, and again last season. In fact, the Czech opened last year with ten straight wins, following up her Brisbane title run with a semi-final finish at the Australian Open.
Her Aussie Open fortnight included a stunning quarter final victory over Serena Williams, when she fought back down from 5-1 down in the final set to take down the legendary American. Serena appeared to have hurt her ankle in the closing stages of that contest, but it was still an impressive fightback from Pliskova.
The former world No. 1 went on to claim further titles in Rome, Eastbourne and Zhengzhou, while she also made the final at the Miami Open, where she was beaten by Ashleigh Barty. She ended the year with a semi-final finish at the WTA Finals, where she lost again to Barty.
For all the good things Pliskova did last year, her overall Grand Slam struggles were again a big knock. Apart from that Melbourne semi-final, she did not make any other major quarter final. The 27-year-old will get four more tries at winning that elusive Grand Slam title in 2020, starting at the Australian Open in just under two weeks from now.
The Brisbane second seed received a bye into the second round, but she was made to work hard by Ajla Tomljanovic in her 2020 opener, needing three sets and just over two hours to overcome the Australian.
After being pegged back from 4-2 to 4-4, Pliskova won two games in a row to take the first set, but she dropped the second in a tie break. The entire second set passed without any break points, but Tomljanovic pulled away in the breaker, converting her third set point to force a decider. Pliskova regrouped to dominate the final set, breaking twice en route a 4-6 7-6 6-1 victory.
It doesn’t get any easier for the Czech, as she goes up against world No. 19, Alison Riske in the last eight on Friday.
Following her career best 2019, Riske has opened 2020 in very similar fashion, taking down Karolina Muchova and Barbora Strycova in straight sets in her two matches in Brisbane. Those were also her first main draw wins in the tournament, as she had lost to Daria Gavrilova in 2015 in her only previous main draw match at the Brisbane International.
The American broke into the top 20 in an impressive 2019, during which she won a title in s-Hertogenbosch, and made finals in Shenzhen and Wuhan. She also reached her maiden Grand Slam quarter final at Wimbledon, beating Ashleigh Barty before falling to Serena Williams in three sets.
Riske first broke into the top 100 in July 2013, and with the exception of a few weeks at the start of 2018, she has consistently held a two-digit ranking for six and a half years. Before 2019, she had never broken into the top-30, but she made the big jump last season, peaking at No. 18 in the world.
The American has made a fine start to 2020, but if her Brisbane run is to continue, she must end a six-match losing run against Pliskova.
Pliskova holds a 7-1 record in their head-to-head, with Riske’s solitary victory coming an ITF meet in Bronx in 2012. Pliskova may have won their last six matches, but their recent contests have been extremely close, with their last three encounters featuring five tie breaks.
For Pliskova, the serve will again be the key. If she gets in a decent percentage, she can play the match on her terms, but she will find it very difficult if she has a poor serving day. Riske has a wonderful combination of aggression and tenacity, and has been getting very close to Pliskova in their last few meetings, including holding a couple of match points in Tokyo in 2018. Can she finally get one over the world No. 2?