Under the radar Kvitova and Pliskova can do damage

As the 2019 Australian Open moves into its second week, the Czech contingent are still going strong at Melbourne Park. Tomas Berdych has cut a swathe through the men’s draw, playing better tennis than he has in some years. But whilst he faced the daunting, and likely insurmountable challenge, of Rafael Nadal in the fourth round, his compatriots Petra Kvitova and Karolina Pliskova will feel confident about their chances of manufacturing deep runs at the Happy Slam.

Both have had good results in Melbourne in the past, with Kvitova reaching the last four in 2012 and Pliskova back-to-back quarterfinals in the past two years. Both have the sort of powerful games that enable them to beat anyone on their day. And both are in good form, Kvitova especially so. The eighth seed is riding an eight-match winning-streak after storming to the title in Sydney. And whilst in 2018, she couldn’t turn pre-Slam form into good results at the Majors, she impressed in the first week.

Magdalena Rybarikova and Irina-Camelia Begu were swept aside in the opening rounds. Kvitova then dealt with the talented Belinda Bencic comfortably, dispatching the Swiss for the loss of just five games. Her next opponent, Amanda Anisimova of the USA, is likely to present the toughest test yet, with the 17-year-old playing with power and maturity far beyond her years. But Kvitova is a class above any of the American’s previous opponents and she has the weight of experience on her side.

Pliskova has also been making steady, if less spectacular progress through the draw. She had far too much for her countrywoman Karolina Muchova in the first round, before finishing superbly to rally past Madison Brengle 4-6 6-1 6-0. She received a stern examination in the third round at the hands of Camila Giorgi, last year a quarterfinalist at Wimbledon, but Pliskova played to her strengths to emerge a 6-4 3-6 6-2 victor and book her place in the second week.

She too will likely have to be at her best if she is to reach the quarterfinals as awaiting her in the fourth round is the rejuvenated former-world #1 Garbine Muguruza. After a miserable 2018, the Spaniard played some fine tennis in the first week at Melbourne Park, with her 6-4 6-7 7-5 victory over Johanna Konta in a late-night thriller in the second round evidence of her renewed confidence. But Pliskova has dominated their rivalry with seven wins in their nine previous matches.

Of course, looking beyond the fourth round, their paths get no easier in one of the most competitive women’s draws in recent memory. But either world #1 Simona Halep or pre-tournament favourite Serena Williams will have been knocked out by the quarterfinals with the pair set to clash in the fourth round. World #2 and Wimbledon Angelique Kerber also lurks, whilst Sloane Stephens and Naomi Osaka have both looked dangerous.

But Kvitova and Pliskova should both have the confidence that they can beat anyone else left in the draw. The Kvitova forehand can be almost unplayable whilst there are few better servers than Pliskova. And having largely gone under the radar so far, neither Kvitova nor Pliskova should be feeling the same sort of pressure as their peers at the top of the game. But having seen what Kvitova and Pliskova can do when swinging freely, don’t expect the Czech’s to stay out of the spotlight much longer.

Main Photo: