The defending Australian Open champion Angelique Kerber looked shaky in her first two matches against Lesia Tsurenko and Carina Witthoeft. Nonetheless, it was a vintage Kerber performance in the Rod Laver Arena, that we are accustomed to by dispatching Kristyna Pliskova, the twin-sister of Karolina, in straight sets in just 55 minutes, recording her 10th successive victory at Melbourne Park in the process.
Kerber wastes no time in the first set
Pliskova ranked at 58 in the world opened the first game of the match with an ace, however, two consecutive unforced errors from Pliskova, followed by a backhand unforced error, handed the defending champion a break point. With little to do, Kerber took the break point with a tame backhand unforced error in the net from Pliskova.
The top seed started the second game with another backhand unforced error from Pliskova's racquet, however, the Czech would win the next two points, courtesy of a forehand winner down the line and a double fault. However, Kerber leveled the game at 30-30 with a serve out wide, drawing the forehand unforced error from Pliskova, nevertheless, the Czech-lefty had the chance to get the immediate break back with a volley winner at the net but Kerber would go on to win the next three points to consolidate the break and lead 2-0.
Pliskova raced out to a 40-0 lead with two aces, however, a double fault, quickly followed by two forehand unforced errors got the game to deuce but Pliskova got the advantage with an ace. Once again, Pliskova was her worst enemy with a forehand unforced error in the net and a double break gave Kerber a comfortable cushion leading 3-0.
The German would consolidate the double break leading 4-0, and in the fifth game, it was a poor game from the world number 58. A double fault, followed by a forehand passing shot down the line and a forehand winner at the net, handing the defending champion, three break points. Pliskova served a service winner but a forehand unforced error allowed the German to get the triple break and lead 5-0.
Kerber's job of serving out for the opening set was easy as at 15-15, two consecutive forehand unforced errors from Pliskova's racquet, handed the top seed two set points. The two-time Slam champion then served a double fault but she closed out the opening by virtue of another forehand unforced error from Pliskova, to take the opening set in a lightning quick 19 minutes.
A closer second set
The Czech lefty was once again serving at the start of a set, and it was a carbon copy of the first set. Pliskova started the game at 15-0 by virtue of a tame unforced error from Kerber, failing to punish the Czech's weak second serve. The defending champion raced out to a 15-40 lead and she took her first break point chance with a backhand winner to win her seventh consecutive game.
Kerber consolidated the break to 15 by virtue of another Pliskova forehand unforced error which continued to mount up. Furthermore, in the third game of the match, Pliskova held to love, and she had a smile on her face, ending the run of eight consecutive games against her.
The 29-year-old had suffered a mental lapse of concentration for the first time in her match, and it was an uncharacteristic game for the German. She started the game with a forehand unforced error, a forehand error sprung from Pliskova's game to level at 15-15. However, the Czech would come out on top in an amazing 18-shot rally with a forehand winner down the line, followed by a drop shot from Kerber which handed Pliskova the chance to break. The world number 58 took the break point chance by virtue of a poor drop shot attempt by the world number one, leveling the second set at 1-1.
Pliskova would win her third consecutive game on the trot with an ace out wide at 40-15 but Kerber would win the next point with a smash winner at the net, however, a tame forehand unforced error in the net, allowed Pliskova to lead 3-2.
Kerber had the match too easy, and at 15-15, a forehand unforced error out wide, followed by a forehand unforced error in the net by Pliskova got the game to 30-30. Furthermore, Pliskova had the chance to win her fourth consecutive game by creating a break point with a scintillating backhand winner down the line. The German's first serve out wide saved the break point opportunity and she eventually held serve to level the second set at 3-3.
The Czech could have easily let her head drop in that game but in the seventh game of the second set, she held to love with getting first serves in, an ace to lead 4-3. The following game saw both players commit unforced errors, and a double fault handed Pliskova a 15-30 lead. However, Kerber would win the next three points rounded off with a good passing shot to get the second set leveled at 4-4.
It was crucial for Pliskova to hold serve in the ninth game as Kerber would have the chance to serve for the match in the following game. Pliskova committed another forehand unforced error, however, she would win the next two points to get a 30-15 lead. However, another 18-shot rally would go the way of Kerber this time with an amazing passing shot down the line. Furthermore, two forehand unforced errors would spring from Pliskova's racquet, gave Kerber to the inevitable break leading 5-4.
Another forehand unforced error allowed Kerber to lead 15-0 in the tenth game but Pliskova would respond with two back-to-back forehand winners. The reigning champion would produce her own forehand winner down the line, and a volley winner at the net handed a match point. A forehand unforced error out wide, handed Kerber the victory in just 55 minutes, which will be vital going forward for a successful title defense.
The defending champion got 65 percent of her first serves in, and she would 62 percent of the points on it. The German produced 14 winners and committed the same number of unforced errors. In contrast, Pliskova produced 19 winners but 34 forehand unforced errors proved to be costly. The Czech-lefty converted only one of the three break point chances she created.
A tough test in the fourth round
The world number one will play Coco Vandeweghe in the fourth round of the Australian Open on Sunday. The hard-hitting American defeated 2014 semifinalist Eugenie Bouchard in three sets in the first match in the Rod Laver Arena on Day Five, and Vandeweghe will be looking for her second Grand Slam quarterfinal appearance. Kerber leads 2-0 in their head-to-head meeting with both of their meetings taking place on hard courts.