Last year's US Open finalist Karolina Pliskova struggled to make an impact at Grand Slams until the aforementioned tournament arrived when Pliskova made it into the second week of a Slam at the 18th time of trying. The fifth-seeded Czech has managed to reach the quarterfinals of a Slam for the second consecutive Slam and has been dubbed as one of the favourites for the Daphne Akhurst Memorial Trophy on Saturday.
On the other side of the net to Pliskova in the first of the two women's singles quarterfinals scheduled to be played at the Australian Open on Day 10 at the Rod Laver Arena, will be the story of the tournament, Mirjana Lucic-Baroni. The 34-year-old stopped playing professional tennis for a few amount of years due to an abusive father. However, the Croat's results in her second part of her career have been eye-catching. The former top 40 player, has reached the quarterfinals of a Slam for the first time since Wimbledon in 1999.
Pliskova's route to the quarterfinals
The fifth seed dropped only four games in her opening two matches, defeating Spain's Sara Sorribes Tomo, 6-2, 6-0, and she would defeat Russian qualifier, Anna Blinkova, 6-0, 6-2 to reach the third round in Melbourne for the third consecutive year. Pliskova's draw was reasonable coming into the Australian Open, however, she suffered an almighty scare against Jelena Ostapenko in the third round.
The big-serving Czech was trailing a double break at 2-5 down in the final set, nevertheless, she recovered to defeat the Latvian, 4-6, 6-0, 10-8 advancing to the fourth round in Melbourne for the first time in her career. Pliskova dispatched Australia's 22nd seed Daria Gavrilova, 6-3, 6-3 advancing to her second consecutive hardcourt Grand Slam quarterfinal and first in Melbourne. Pliskova and six-time champion Serena Williams are the only two players in the draw who have made back-to-back semifinals at the Australian and US Opens.
Lucic-Baroni's route to the quarterfinals
The 34-year-old Croat began her Australian Open campaign against Chinese qualifier Wang Qiang, she had to recover from a set down to defeat her opponent, 4-6, 6-3, 6-4. Remarkably, it was Lucic-Baroni's first victory at the Australian Open since 1998. In the second round, the Croatia native demolished third seed and two-time semi-finalist Agnieszka Radwanska, 6-3, 6-2. The draw opened up for the lowest remaining player in the draw at 79 in the world, once again recovering from a set down.
This time, she battled past Greece's Maria Sakkari, 3-6, 6-2, 6-3 to reach the second week of a Slam for the first time since reaching the fourth round of the US Open in 2014. Amazingly, Lucic-Baroni's fairytale run continued by defeating American qualifier Jennifer Brady, 6-4, 6-2 thus advancing to her first Grand Slam quarterfinal since Wimbledon in 1999, when she went on to reach the semifinals.
Pliskova and Lucic-Baroni have met on five occasions with the fifth-seed having the slender 3-2 advantage in their meetings. Pliskova won their first meeting at a 100k event in Nassau, 6-4, 6-2, however, Lucic-Baroni would defeat Pliskova in the first round of the Aegon Classic in Birmingham in 2013.
Last year's US Open finalist defeated the Croat for the second time in the round of 32 stage on the hard courts in Antwerp, 6-4, 7-6 (5) in 2015, and Lucic-Baroni would level the rivalry again by defeating Pliskova in the first round of the Rogers Cup in Toronto, 3-6, 7-6 (5), 6-2. They met for the third time in 2015 with the Czech overcoming Lucic-Baroni in a three-set thriller in Wuhan, 7-6 (4), 5-7, 7-6 (5).
Who reaches the semifinals?
Pliskova is the firm favourite to reach her second consecutive Grand Slam semifinal. The Czech's movement has significantly improved which is a bonus for her, as she boasts one of the best serves on the women's tour, sending down plenty of aces. The fifth seed's forehand and backhand are among the strongest aspects of her game. Furthermore, Pliskova has done a remarkable job of backing up her run to the final of the US Open by reaching the quarterfinals in Melbourne.
Moreover, for Lucic-Baroni this is a golden opportunity to reach the semifinals of a Grand Slam once more. The Croat has a history of giant-killing as she overpowered Simona Halep at the US Open in 2014 and French Open in 2015. The Croat also boasts a good serve and her forehand has a been of thing of beauty throughout this tournament. Both players will be getting cheap points on their serves, and it depends on who will keep calm at the crunch moments. Lucic-Baroni is one of three players left in the draw to reach the quarterfinals, over the age of 30 along with the Williams Sisters.
This is the first match scheduled on Day 10 of the Australian Open in the Rod Laver Arena, and the winner of this quarterfinal match will play second seed and six-time champion Serena Williams or ninth seed and last year's semifinalist Johanna Konta, and the winner's potential semifinal opponent has not dropped a set throughout the tournament thus far. This is a good chance for Lucic-Baroni to progress but Pliskova is playing inspired tennis right now and should have a little too much for the Croat.
Prediction: Pliskova in straight sets