In a battle of the former world #1’s, seventh seed Karolina Pliskova takes on Victoria Azarenka. Pliskova has never enjoyed the most success at Wimbledon, and her form has stuttered somewhat this year by the high standards she has set for herself over the past few seasons. Azarenka, meanwhile, has largely been absent from the Tour of late after a pregnancy and ensuing custody battle but will be looking for a good run at the Championships. Who will come out on top?
Pliskova and Azarenka have met five times, although never on grass, in a head-to-head that the Belarussian leads narrowly 3-2. Their first match came a decade ago on the clay courts in Prague in the quarterfinals. Azarenka dominated that match from start to finish, reaching the last four a 6-2 6-1 victor. They did not play again for seven years, renewing their rivalry in 2015 in Brisbane in the first round. Pliskova won that match in three, battling through from a set down to win 4-6 7-6 6-4.
When they met a year later the stakes were rather higher with the pair facing off in the semifinals in Indian Wells. Azarenka won a tightly-contested affair in three sets 7-6 1-6 6-2 and went on to upset top seed Serena Williams in the final. She beat Pliskova again earlier this year in the Miami Open quarterfinals 7-5 6-3, but the Czech had her revenge in Madrid in May, besting Azarenka 6-2 1-6 7-5 in the second round.
Path to the second round
After a third round exit at the French Open, Pliskova played in Birmingham and Eastbourne, but won just two matches and failed to entirely convince. It seemed that things were getting no better when she went down an early break in the first round against British wildcard Harriet Dart. Pliskova managed to rescue that set, winning it in a tiebreak, but lost the second heavily. But the seventh seed raised her level to dominate in the decider, advancing a 7-6 2-6 6-1 winner.
Azarenka lost first round in Paris and exited in the second round of her only Wimbledon warm up event in Mallorca. But she played well in defeating Russia’s Ekaterina Alexandrova in first round action at the All England Club. After a tight first set was decided by a tiebreak that Azarenka won seven points to four, the two-time Grand Slam champion was more comfortable in the second set. She won it 6-3 to reach the second round at Wimbledon for the eleventh time.
How do they match up?
This should provide an entertaining clash between an offensive and a defensive-minded player. Pliskova will likely do the majority of the attacking in this match, backed by a powerful serve and forehand. Azarenka at the peak of her powers was one of the best defenders in the game, and her return of serve was particularly impressive. If she is regularly able to return Pliskova’s serves with interest, it could just fire her into the second round.
Neither player comes into this match in particularly good form, but Azarenka does have one considerable advantage in what is otherwise evidently a fairly even match up. That is her affinity for grass court tennis. Whilst it would be a stretch to describe her as a born grass-courter, Azarenka has reached two Wimbledon semifinals and an Olympic final on the surface. Pliskova has never gone beyond the second round. That will prove decisive. Azarenka in three.