By John O'Brien
SINGAPORE (Reuters) - Karolina Pliskova put on a ruthless display of big hitting to swat aside crowd favorite Venus Williams 6-2 6-2 in the opening match of the WTA Finals at the Singapore Indoor Stadium on Sunday.
The 37-year-old Williams is making her first appearance since 2009 at the elite eight-woman event but her Czech opponent hit the ground running and never looked back after she broke the American's serve early in the first set of the group match.
The strategy was pretty much established in the opening game, with Williams, the 2008 champion, looking to come to the net whenever possible, while Pliskova was happy to rely on her powerful groundstrokes from the baseline.
Pliskova found her range immediately for a routine hold in the first game but Williams struggled when it was her turn to serve as the Czech capitalized on some sloppy play from the American to break with a booming forehand.
A flustered Williams settled in the fourth game to finally get on the scoreboard with a second ace of the match and, after the pair exchanged breaks, Pliskova moved 5-2 ahead with a sumptuous volley after working the American around the court.
Another double fault gave the world number three her first set point and she duly wrapped up the opener in 32 minutes when Williams went long with an errant backhand.
"I think my serve was pretty good today but the scoreline makes it look easier than it was," Pliskova said in a courtside interview.
The second set began with both players holding comfortably before Pliskova edged ahead in a pivotal third game when she fended off two break points with a brilliant volley and an ace before sending down two more huge serves to stay in control.
Williams was now struggling for both range and control and Pliskova, buoyed up by the tough hold in the previous game, pounced on another poor sequence of points from her opponent to break again and surge clear.
Pliskova held to love for a 5-2 lead before a big forehand winner brought up three match points and, while Williams played her best tennis of the match to stave them off, a wayward backhand on the fourth gifted her opponent victory in just 74 minutes.
"There are no easy matches in Singapore so you have to be ready from the first point. That's what I was trying to do today and it worked," Pliskova added.
Spanish second seed Garbine Muguruza will face French Open champion Jelena Ostapenko of Latvia in the second White Group round-robin match of the day later on Sunday.
The Red Group contains world number one Simona Halep of Romania, Ukraine's Elina Svitolina, Dane Caroline Wozniacki and Frenchwoman Caroline Garcia, with the first matches in that pool taking place on Monday.
(Editing by Clare Fallon)