In what must surely be one of the matches of the round, Karolina Pliskova, the sixth seed in the French capital, takes on Maria Sharapova, who was twice a champion at Roland Garros, for a place in the second week. Pliskova was long known for struggling at the Slams, but whilst she has not yet claimed the title at a Major, she has turned herself into a real contender at every tournament. Sharapova, meanwhile, is playing her best tennis since returning from a ban. But who will come out on top?
This will be just a second meeting between Pliskova and Sharapova. Their first came in 2015 in the pressure cooker of a Fed Cup final hosted in Prague. Sharapova and Pliskova clashed with the Czech’s leading in the tie after Kvitova defeated Pavlyuchenkova. But Sharapova even the scores with a dominant 6-3 6-4 win over Pliskova. Unfortunately for Sharapova, it wasn’t to be enough despite her also beating Kvitova as the Czech’s triumphed 3-2.
Path to the third round
Pliskova, who reached the semifinals at the French Open last year, began her tournament against her compatriot Barbora Krejcikova, who had qualified into the main draw. She looked match sharp and proved a stern test for Pliskova, but ultimately it was one that the Czech passed impressively by defeating Krejcikova 7-6 6-4. She was made to work by another of her countrywomen, 2015 finalist Lucie Safarova. Pliskova dropped the first set, but was able to battle back to win in three.
Sharapova started at Roland Garros against the Netherland’s Richel Hogenkamp. The Russian made a fast start, winning the first set 6-1, but had to fend off a fine fightback from Hogenkamp, who levelled the match in the second and pushed hard in the decider. Ultimately though, Sharapova’s quality told as she won 6-1 4-6 6-3. Sharapova then battled past Donna Vekic in a high quality encounter, reaching the third round a 7-5 6-4 winner.
How do they match up?
Both Pliskova and Sharapova are powerful, offensive baseliners. Pliskova, who is one of the very best servers on the Tour, will rely on taking control of the rally early as often as possible, particularly on her own deal. Her forehand will also be vital, with the Czech able to stand tall at the baseline and dictate with it when she is at her best. It would also be no surprise to see the sixth seed throw in some serve-and-volley points, a tactic she generally uses effectively, albeit sparingly.
Sharapova’s serve is not the weapon that Pliskova’s is. However, the Russian is equipped with dangerous weapons on both wings. Her forehand is one of the best in the game, with Sharapova comfortable using it to dictate play. She is also a better mover than Pliskova. It will be interesting to see how much Sharapova tries to unsettle the Czech with variety or if she is willing to engage in a toe-to-toe battle from the baseline.
Both Sharapova and Pliskova come into this match having faced early tests. They’ve been forced to find some of their best tennis already, and that should make this an excellent match to watch for the fans on Chatrier. It’s also tight. Sharapova looks to have rediscovered the sort of form that made her ever-present in the top ten, whilst Pliskova is one of the Tour’s most consistent players. But Sharapova is slightly more comfortable on a clay court, and that will give her the edge in a three set win.