Second seed Karolina Pliskova, a consistent Australian Open performer in recent years, faces Laura Siegemund, the drop shot-happy German who won their only previous meeting, in the second round on Thursday.
Karolina Pliskova vs Laura Siegemund is live from Melbourne on Thursday 23 January at 1pm local/2am GMT
Although Pliskova’s sole run to a Grand Slam final came at the US Open in 2016, the Czech’s most successful major in recent years has actually been the Australian Open, where she made the quarterfinals in 2017 and 2018 and the semifinals in 2019 after a match-point-saving victory over Serena Williams.
This is the fourth year in a row that Pliskova has warmed up for the Australian Open with a deep run at the Brisbane International, winning the title in 2017, reaching the semifinals in 2018, claiming a second title in 2019 and successfully defending it a fortnight ago when she saved a match point to beat Naomi Osaka in the semifinals before defeating Madison Keys in three tight sets in the final.
The second seed extended her winning streak to six matches with a win over Kristina Mladenovic in a first-round encounter many circled as providing a potential upset, with Mladenovic a former top-10 player who carried a 2-2 record against Pliskova and a history of enjoying taking down top seeds into the contest. In the end, however, it wasn’t as much of a contest as predicted, with the slumping (in singles) Mladenovic losing 1-6, 5-7 in 85 minutes. Pliskova served five aces, dropped just eight points behind her first serve through the match and saved seven of the eight break points she faced as well as out-winnering Mladenovic 20 to 14 while keeping her unforced errors relatively under control, committing 17 (of which three were double faults) to Mladenovic’s 23.
Now coached by Dani Vallverdu and Olga Savchuk, Pliskova has been in the top ten – and often the top five – for the past three seasons, and it’s about time the former world no. 1 made another major final. She’s also on a ten-match winning streak in Grand Slam second-round matches dating back to her 2017 Wimbledon defeat to Magdalena Rybarikova, and hasn’t failed to reach the third round at the Australian Open since 2014, when – ranked world no. 70 – she lost 12-10 in the third to Daniela Hantuchova.
Pliskova could have faced Coco Vandeweghe in the second round, a former Australian Open semifinalist herself in the draw as a wildcard after struggling with injury and a big-serving American whose head-to-head against the Czech is 3-3; instead, she faces a player against whom she is 0-1, but a bit more of an unknown quantity on hard courts, Laura Siegemund.
Something of a late bloomer, Siegemund first broke into the top 100 at the end of 2015 and went on to make a name for herself with a tremendous run at the Porsche Tennis Grand Prix in her native Germany in April 2016, qualifying for the main draw before ousting three top-10 players to reach the final. Finishing runner-up to Angelique Kerber, Siegemund went on to win her first WTA Tour title in Bastad the same year, then went one better on her return to Stuttgart in 2017, beating another trio of top-10 players – including Pliskova – before defeating none other than Mladenovic in the final.
Siegemund rose to world no. 32 as a result but suffered a horrible knee injury a month or so later and did not return to competition for ten months. Her ranking dropped as low as world no. 358 as a result and although she re-established herself in the top 100 in 2019, making the semifinals in Bucharest, she hasn’t yet managed to rise to the same heights as before her injury.
A quarterfinalist in Auckland two weeks ago, where she beat Coco Gauff before losing to Serena Williams in straight sets, Siegemund overturned an 0-4 record vs another CoCo, Vandeweghe, in the first round, defeating the American 6-1, 6-4. It was a good win, even if Vandeweghe – another Stuttgart finalist – only played eight tournaments in 2019, and in that Vandeweghe is a player who relies on her powerful serve and forehand, good preparation for playing Pliskova.
The Czech is much more of a baseliner, however, and she’s lost her only previous match with Siegemund, who upset Pliskova 7-6(5, 5-7, 6-3. That win, like most of Siegemund’s victories over top-10 players, came on clay – could Siegemund replicate it on hard courts? Pliskova will have to serve very well and keep the German under constant pressure, pinned back behind the baseline, to stop her playing her favoured drop shots or at least force her to do so from awkward positions. It’s doable, but I wouldn’t be surprised if Pliskova gets frustrated and ends up dropping a set before booking her place in the third round.