MELBOURNE (Reuters) – Serena Williams may have become engaged over the New Year but Karolina Pliskova emerged from the Australian Open second round on Thursday demonstrating she was ready to step out of the shadows as a grand slam bridesmaid.
Last year’s U.S. Open finalist produced an effortless performance against Russian qualifier Anna Blinkova, to back up a impressive showing in her first round victory over Spain’s Sara Sorribes Tormo.
Such was her dominance on Margaret Court Arena it was as if she was taking the Russian’s surname literally, as the 18-year-old did not get on the scoreboard until the fifth game of the second set before the Czech wrapped up victory in 59 minutes.
“I’m feeling pretty good on the court, confident,” Pliskova said after the 6-0 6-2 victory. “Even (if) the opponents were not that high level, I would say, but still, I felt pretty good out there.”
Pliskova, however, was not prepared to send ‘save the date’ cards yet, even if pundits were suggesting the tall Czech should be someone that Williams and defending champion Angelique Kerber should be casting wary glances at as the tournament progresses.
“Third round is going to definitely more tough than the first two,” Pliskova said of her clash with Latvia’s Jelena Ostapenko. “People are talking I have a good chance to win a grand slam, but we are just in third round, so let’s see.”
Pliskova, however, was not the only grand slam finalist to emerge as potential challengers to the German top seed and American six-times champion on Thursday.
WTA Finals winner Dominika Cibulkova and former world number one Caroline Wozniacki both safely advanced into the third round with relatively comfortable victories.
Wozniacki has had the most big-game experience, having been to two finals at Flushing Meadows, losing to Kim Clijsters in 2009 and Williams in 2014.
“If you want to win the tournament, you need to beat great players along the way,” Wozniacki said after her 6-1 6-3 win over Croatia’s Donna Vekic. “Whether it’s in the third round or the semis, whatever it is, you need to get through them.”
The 26-year-old Dane, who also made the semi-finals last year in New York when she lost to eventual champion Kerber, felt she was slowly getting back into the groove that propelled her to the number one ranking for 67 weeks.
“I played really well at the end of last year. Probably some of the best tennis I have ever played, so that was great,” she added.
Wozniacki, however, next faces Britain’s in-form ninth seed Johanna Konta in the third round with the winner likely to meet Williams in the quarter-finals, meaning her long wait for a grand slam breakthrough appears set to continue.
Cibulkova, who became a grand slam bridesmaid when she lost to China’s Li Na at Melbourne Park in 2014, actually did get married last year after her quarter-final exit at Wimbledon.
She had a minor scare on Thursday when Taiwan’s Hseih Su-wei forced a second-set tie-break, but the Slovak was pleased with her mental toughness to shake off two dropped match points and close out the 6-4 7-6(8) victory in one hour and 43 minutes.
“I feel really good,” Cibulkova told reporters. “I should have closed the match much earlier, had those two match points. I’m really proud of myself the way I handled the tie-breaker.
“She even had a set point but I was really in the moment and that gave me a lot of confidence.”
(Writing by Greg Stutchbury in Wellington; Additional reporting by Nick Mulvenney; Editing by John O’Brien)