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Former world No.1 Karolina Pliskova has slipped through to the second week of the Australian Open 2023 relatively unnoticed.

Like a shark in the water, the 30-year-old often proves dangerous to those who find themselves in her path.

Thanks to a tournament total of 28 aces, second only to Elena Rybakina, and fast courts that suit her game, Pliskova hasn’t dropped a set through the first four rounds at Melbourne Park.

In fact, the 30th seed has chalked up just four hours and 33 minutes on court, making her the freshest of any quarterfinalist. She now faces the unseeded Magda Linette.

Helped by a relatively open draw, Pliskova’s biggest challenge in her run to the final eight looked to be China’s Zhang Shuai, but the Czech had no trouble toppling the 23rd seed 6-0 6-4 in a display of near-faultless tennis.

“I was dominating from the baseline, I was really good, I had many free points on the serve,” said Pliskova.

“The timing, sometimes you just feel it – you feel you’re hitting clean, that’s what was happening for the last, like, two, three weeks.”

She then sounded an ominous alarm for the remaining contenders in the AO 2023 women’s field: “If I play like I played today, I think it’s tough for anybody to compete with that.”

Also alarming for her opponents is the fact that through the first four rounds, Pliskova has won 72 per cent of points against second serves, a feat also achieved by fellow quarterfinalist Jessica Pegula.

Runner-up at the 2016 US Open and Wimbledon 2021, and a semifinalist at AO 2019 and Roland Garros 2017, Pliskova is a familiar face at the business end of majors.

She has now reached a second straight Grand Slam quarterfinal, backing up a stunning run at Flushing Meadows where she upset Belinda Bencic and Victoria Azarenka.

“I think the experience from the second week can be a bit helpful,” said the Czech. “But, also, I feel like there are so many young girls, or girls which they never been there – they can also feel a bit more free without the pressure, like nobody expect them to actually be there.”

Linette is certainly in that camp. After blasting past fourth seed Caroline Garcia to secure a career-first major quarterfinal berth, the 30-year-old was a picture of disbelief.

Pliskova boasts a hefty 7-2 win-loss record against the Polish world No.45, but the accomplished baseliner, who lost their most recent Billie Jean King Cup Finals battle, is refusing to get ahead of herself.

“I don’t want to say it’s a good draw,” said Pliskova, who has clinched 10 of her 16 titles on a hard court. “I watch[ed] her a little bit this week, I think she’s really playing good tennis.

“She really improved her game a lot, she [has] start[ed] to believe…she’s a fighter, playing really good game from the baseline. I just can’t give her the time and [the] game [that] she wants to play.”

The Czech is once again working under the tutelage of Sascha Bajin, a former hitting partner of Serena Williams and coach to Naomi Osaka when the Japanese star won AO 2019.

As the adage goes, absence makes the heart grow fonder and after being sidelined from AO 2022 with a wrist injury, Pliskova is thrilled with how this fortnight is unfolding.

“Last year was tough, especially missing Australia, it’s my favourite country and favourite tournament to play,” said the Czech on Monday.

“I’m happy that I’m competing back at the level where I want to be [and] happy to be in [the] quarters. It’s always great to be in second week of a slam – hopefully I can stay a little bit longer.”

Source: Gill Tan

www.sports24ghana.com

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