Second seed Karolina Pliskova reached the semifinals of the BNP Paribas Open at Indian Wells, for the second consecutive year, last week. The Czech number one was unable to go one better from last year's finish as she lost to Svetlana Kuznetsova in straight sets. The world number three has already won two titles in 2017, carrying on the form that got her to a maiden Grand Slam final at the US Open. Pliskova's 2017 standout results have seen her reach a second consecutive Grand Slam quarterfinal at the Australian Open back in January. The second seed certainly has the game to win a Grand Slam singles title, and since world number two Serena Williams is not in the draw, Pliskova has a good chance of winning the title in Miami.
Pliskova will be looking to reach the quarterfinals in Miami for the second time in three years after she lost to Andrea Petkovic in the quarterfinals in 2015. The Czech's fourth round opponent will be a familiar face in compatriot, and 15th seed Barbora Strycova. Strycova and Pliskova occasionally pair up for doubles, and the Czech duo won a Premier-level title in Birmingham last year. Strycova won the Fed Cup for the Czech Republic with Pliskova, therefore, both players know each other's games well.
Pliskova's route to the fourth round
The 25-year-old received a bye as a top 32 seed which would have been useful for Pliskova as she reached the semifinals in the Californian Desert last week. She began her quest for a maiden title in Miami against American qualifier Madison Brengle. The lanky Czech thrashed Brengle, 6-1, 6-3 to reach the third round. Unfortunately for the Czech, she endured a rain delay which forced her match to finish a few hours later against 27th seed Yulia Putintseva. Pliskova needed multiple set points to take the opening set and cruised through the second set, 7-5, 6-3 to ensure her berth in the round of 16.
Strycova's route to the fourth round
Strycova, the 15th seed also gained a bye in the first round and she was up against Sweden's Johanna Larsson in the second round. The feisty Czech dispatched the Swede in three sets, 4-6, 6-3, 7-6 (3) and she overcame Slovak qualifier Jana Cepelova, 6-2, 6-4. Cepelova didn't lie down in the second set as she almost overturned a 1-5 deficit but failed to convert on the break point chances to level the second set.
The Czechs have met on two occasions and both players have one victory to their name over their compatriot. The second seed defeated Strycova, 6-4, 6-2 in their round of 32 encounter in Dubai in 2015, and despite winning the doubles title on the lawns of Birmingham, Strycova bested her compatriot, 6-4, 7-6 (7) in the singles draw.
Who reaches the quarterfinals?
Pliskova has snuffed out a lot of errors in her game, and last year's US Open runner-up has improved on her movement and her serve significantly. David Kotyza, the former coach of two-time Wimbledon champion Petra Kvitova is now coaching Pliskova and the 25-year-old will be hoping to have similar success as her compatriot.
Strycova played a very good match against former world number one Serena Williams at the Australian Open in the fourth round, Williams went on to clinch the title although the Czech would have beaten any other player if she was able to take her chances. The 15th seeded Czech's serve is not as good as Pliskova's but she is a fine returner, which she demonstrated against Williams, who possesses more power than her. It will be a similar story against Pliskova who is taller than her in stature. Moreover, it is important that Strycova holds on to her serve, and try to apply pressure on the consistent higher-ranked Czech's service games. Pliskova has already played a feisty opponent in Putintseva and as she knows Strycova, she will not be unsettled by Strycova's on-court antics.
This will be an intriguing fourth round encounter between the Fed Cup teammates with a spot in the quarterfinals at stake. The draw in the bottom half has opened up with fifth seed Agnieszka Radwanska bowing out in the third round. The winner of this match will face Australian Open semifinalist and Radwanska's conqueror Mirjana Lucic-Baroni or American wildcard Bethanie Mattek-Sands in the quarterfinals. It is a good chance for Pliskova to go on a deep run in Miami, and she should have a little too much for her compatriot.
Prediction: Pliskova in straight sets