LONDON (REUTERS, AFP) - Karolina Pliskova has long been thought of as a Grand Slam champion-in-waiting and the Czech provided evidence of her grass-court pedigree on Wednesday (July 3) as she hurtled past Monica Puig 6-0, 6-4 in the second round of Wimbledon.
“I feel like I’m improving every day on grass,” said Pliskova, who arrived at Wimbledon full of confidence after scooping her third WTA title on grass at Eastbourne last week.
“The title in Eastbourne helped me feel more confident and to get more used to the surface.”
But if Pliskova was hoping her success at Eastbourne would easily translate to a Wimbledon title, she will have to buck recent trends as fellow Czech Jana Novotna was the last woman to have pulled off the feat 21 years ago.
On Wednesday, though, Pliskova showed why she is considered as one of the front runners for this year’s Wimbledon crown.
Watched on by former Formula One driver David Coulthard from the Royal Box, the third seed appeared to be in the fast lane to victory as she dropped only two points on serve to zoom through the first set in 20 minutes.
At the other end of Centre Court, a double fault on set point summed up the kind of torturous day Olympic champion Puig was having to endure.
But just when it seemed the race was on for Pliskova to produce the first double bagel of this year’s championships, the Puerto Rican drew a prolonged round of sympathetic applause as she finally won a game in the second game of the second set.
However, her Czech opponent, who could topple Ash Barty from the WTA rankings summit if she reaches the latter stages of the grasscourt major, was not exactly in a charitable mood as she broke Puig to go 3-1 ahead and served for the match at 5-3.
Being on the edge of defeat allowed Puig to come out swinging in the ninth game as she broke Pliskova.
But if that gave Puig a glint of hope for an upset, the Czech quickly snuffed out such thoughts by breaking the 25-year-old in the very next game to seal a third-round match with Taiwanese 28th seed Hsieh Su-wei.
“The deeper you go, the better players you play so it’s not going to be easy here,” said Pliskova, whose only defeat on grass this season was against her twin Kristyna in the last 16 in Birmingham.
Earlier, former world No. 1 Victoria Azarenka thrashed Australian Ajla Tomljanovic 6-2, 6-0 in the second round to continue her impressive start.
The unseeded 29-year-old Belarusian produced an aggressive display to overpower her opponent and set up a possible third-round clash with Romanian Simona Halep.
The two-time Australian Open champion's progress since returning to tennis two years ago following the birth of her son Leo has been steady rather than spectacular, not helped by a long-running custody battle with her former partner.
But there are signs that she is beginning to rediscover the form and hunger that took her to Wimbledon semi-finals in 2011 and 2012, as well as quarter-final runs in 2009 and 2015.
Tomljanovic, ranked 49th, simply could not cope with the intensity of Azarenka's play and subsided easily.
Azarenka, who beat Alize Cornet in the first round, is in the third round of a Grand Slam for only the third time since returning to the Tour in June 2017.
Meanwhile, the all-star duo of former world No. 1s Andy Murray and Serena Williams will play German Andreas Mies and Alexa Guarachi of Chile in the first round of the mixed doubles.
Mies, 28, comes fresh from creating a major surprise partnering Kevin Krawietz to win the French Open title, beating home hopes Jeremy Chardy and Fabrice Martin in straight sets.
American-born Guarachi, who is also 28, has a more modest record though she won the Swiss Open doubles final last year and reached the Istanbul Cup final this season.
Murray, who is easing his way back into the sport following a radical hip resurfacing, announced he was joining forces with Williams in an all-star partnership on Tuesday.
"It'll be great," Murray told STV. "I'm just happy to be fit and healthy again.
"With what's happened the last year or so, you never know what's round the corner, so it's a great opportunity.
"I'll look forward to it."
The 32-year-old, who won two of his three Grand Slam singles titles at Wimbledon, is already entered into the men's doubles at Wimbledon, where he is playing alongside France's Pierre-Hugues Herbert.