AO 8.5 - Pliskova Cancels "The Dasha Show"
The 4th Round match-up between Pliskova and Dasha Gavrilova was always set up to be one of opposites, and not just in size. The 6-foot-1 Czech relies on her power groundstrokes, big serve, and quick-strike game style to get her through, while rarely openly betraying her emotions (though her racket action in the aforementioned match vs. Jelena Ostapenko in which she seemed destined to lose when down 5-2 in the 3rd set), while the 5-foot-5 Aussie's scrambling defensive game, by her own admittance, isn't really capable of blowing anyone off the court, meaning she often has to go the distance (in points and sets, extending the action and creating errors by making her opponents hit additional shots) to turn things in her favor, showing just about every emotion taking place within her body all the way.
Ostapenko's power had allowed her to hit with Pliskova, dragging her around the court and preventing her from seizing control of the action, but such a thing was a bigger ask of Gavrilova in this match. With less ability to keep Pliskova on her heels, there was always the chance that the Czech was going to assert the dominance of her bigger game in the match-up, preventing Gavrilova from playing hers.
It didn't take long for the scenario to play out, either. In fact, it only took one game under the Laver Arena roof.
In the very first game of the match, with Gavrilova serving, Pliskova put the Aussie on notice that this one wasn't going to be a repeat of her near-debacle vs. the Latvian. Maybe it was the experience of a brush with her AO mortality, a desire to make sure the crowd didn't get the chance to spur Gavrilova on in the early going, or quite possibly that the strapping on her thigh hinted she not only didn't WANT to be chasing balls around the court all night again, having to play far more defense than she's comfortable with, but maybe she COULDN'T. At least not ALL night. In the nearly ten-minute opening game, the tone of the proceedings was set as Pliskova took control of the rallies with her penetrating shots, pushing back Gavrilova, who wasn't able to do much about it other than not give up. She held Pliskova off for as long as she could but, on her third break point chance in the game, the Czech stepped into the court on a return and whacked a ball across the net, creating an error from the Aussie that secured the break of serve.
Moving forward and leaving nothing to chance, Pliskova maintained control, acing Gavrilova to hold for 3-1, then feeding off her mounting errors to break for 4-1, challenging the Aussie to find a way to change the course of her fate. If she could. As expected, she tried. She even managed to step into the court when she had the opportunity and swipe a few points from Pliskova's grasp, but, overall, she wasn't handling the Czech's bigger shots nearly as welll as she would need to to get back into the set, let alone the match.
Serving for the set at 5-2, though, Pliskova did, every so slightly, opened that door a small crack. On the baseline, she folded her long frame down to size in an attempt to get to a low ball, only to totally whiff on the shot (she later said her racket hit her shoe) and fall behind 15/30. An error handed Gavrilova a break chance, and a wild forehand converted it for her. But the peek didn't last long before Pliskova firmly shut the door, forcing a Gavrilova error with a big forehand and getting the break to lock away the set at 6-3.
In the 2nd set, Pliskova's double-fault and error combination gave the Aussie a break of serve in game #1. After failing to convert two BP a game later, the Czech's big returns produced another Gavrilova error and she took the break back. She then held with an ace for 2-1. Gavrilova, to her credit, didn't go into "meltdown mode" as she did in her 4th Round AO loss to Carla Suarez-Navarro a year ago. She's matured enough to know that that sort of thing only makes her her own worst enemy. She fought on, saving two BP in game #4, but still couldn't get "over the hump" in the battle, double-faulting to break herself as Pliskova took a 3-1 lead.
Pliskova wasn't content with casually riding things out, either. She continued to move forward, often venturing in toward the net to end rallies. And even when the tactic proved unsuccessful, she was undaunted. After missing a volley at 40/15 in game #5, she was back at the net again one point later, perfectly executing another volley attempt to extend her lead to 4-1. Serving at 5-3, after failing to put away two match points due to forehand errors, Pliskova went back to her biggest weapon to close things out. Her tour-leading ace total was increased by one when the Czech fired an ace on MP #3 to wrap up the 6-3/6-3 victory and advance to her first AO quarterfinal.
Gavrilova failed to become the first Aussie woman since '09 (Jelena Dokic) to reach the AO final eight, but her "year after" run in Melbourne has solidified -- and validated -- the elevated position within the sport that her slam breakthrough provided her in 2016. Australia has a legit female star, and "The Dasha Show" looks to be set to have a nice primetime run Down Under over the next few years.
Pliskova, though, is still quite a few rungs above the Aussie on the WTA ladder, having backed up her U.S. Open final with (at least) another QF at a major, maintaining her spotless 2017 ledger (9-0) and making her switch to new coach David Kotyza look like the right move at the right time. So far.
She'll next play Mirjana Lucic-Baroni, a player with FAR more power the Gavrilova, with the prospects of playing Serena Williams in the semifinals of a second straight slam looming just around the corner. Hmmm, or maybe it'll be Johanna Konta, the only player off to anything resembling as good a start to the season as Pliskova herself.
Cancelling "The Dasha Show" is one thing, but doing the same to Serena (or Johanna, too) would be another thing entirely. But if Pliskova is going too live up to the "next big thing" mantle her New York City run made look realistic last summer, she'll have to take down still bigger trees in the Melbourne forest to do it.
=NIGHT 8 NOTES=
...and after eight days, we're down to eight.
*2017 AO FINAL 8*
[by career slam QF]
47...Serena Williams, USA
37...Venus Williams, USA
5...Garbine Muguruza, ESP
4...Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova, RUS
2...Johanna Konta, GBR
2...Karolina Pliskova, CZE
2...CoCo Vandeweghe, USA
1...Mirjana Lucic-Baroni, CRO
[by career AO QF]
[w/ consecutive slam QF]
[w/ consecutive AO QF]
[2017 slam QF - unseeded]
AO - Mirjana Lucic-Baroni, CRO
AO - CoCo Vandeweghe, USA
[2017 slam QF - by nation]
[WTA career slam QF - active]
47...SERENA WILLIAMS, USA
37...VENUS WILLIAMS, USA
24...Maria Sharapova, RUS
16...Victoria Azarenka, BLR
15...Svetlana Kuznetsova, RUS
12...Aga Radwanska, POL
9...Petra Kvitova, CZE
8...Jelena Jankovc, SRB
8...Caroline Wozniacki, DEN
[WTA slam QF in 2010's]
19...SERENA WILLIAMS, USA
14...Victoria Azarenka, BLR
11...Maria Sharapova, RUS
9...Petra Kvitova, CZE
9...Aga Radwanska, POL
8...Li Na, CHN (retired)
7...Sara Errani, ITA
7...Simona Halep, ROU
7...Angelique Kerber, GER
7...VENUS WILLIAMS, USA
7...Caroline Wozniacki, DEN
RENNAE GETTING A LAUGH OUT OF KAROLINA ON NIGHT 8: See, it CAN happen.
*LOWEST-SEEDED WOMEN IN AO SF, since 2000*
Unseeded - 2000 Jennifer Capriati, USA
Unseeded - 2007 Serena Williams, USA (W)
Unseeded - 2010 Zheng Jie, CHN
Unseeded - 2015 Madison Keys, USA
Unseeded - 2016 Johanna Konta, GBR
Wild Card - 2010 Justine Henin, BEL (RU)
#32 - 2004 Fabiola Zuluaga, COL
#30 - 2014 Eugenie Bouchard, CAN
#29 - 2013 Sloane Stephens, USA
#22 - 2004 Patty Schnyder, SUI
#20 - 2014 Dominika Cibulkova, SVK (RU)
#19 - 2005 Nathalie Dechy, FRA
#16 - 2010 Li Na, CHN
#12 - 2001 Jennifer Capriati, USA (W)
#11 - 2012 Kim Clijsters, BEL
#10 - 2000 Conchita Martinez, ESP
#10 - 2007 Nicole Vaidisova, CZE
#10 - 2015 Ekaterina Makarova, RUS
Unseeded - Mirjana Lucic-Baroni, CRO
Unseeded - CoCo Vandeweghe, USA
#24 Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova, RUS
#13 Venus Williams, USA
**AO "LADY OF THE EVENING" WINNERS**
2011 Andrea Petkovic, GER
2012 Victoria Azarenka, BLR (W)
2013 Laura Robson, GBR
2014 Li Na, CHN (W)
2015 Genie Bouchard, CAN
2016 "The Dasha Show" (Gavrilova)
2017 Karolina Pliskova, CZE
**RECENT AUSTRALIAN WOMEN IN AO ROUND OF 16**
[since 7-round event in '87]
1987 QF - Elizabeth Smylie
1987 4th Rd. - Janine Tremelling
1987 4th Rd. - Wendy Turnbull
1988 QF - Anne Minter
1989 4th Rd. - Nicole Provis
1990 4th Rd. - Rachel McQuillan
1991 4th Rd. - Rachel McQuillan
1993 4th Rd. - Nicole Provis
2003 4th Rd. - Nicole Pratt
2004 4th Rd. - Alicia Molik
2005 QF - Alicia Molik
2006 4th Rd. - Samantha Stosur
2008 4th Rd. - Casey Dellacqua
2009 QF - Jelena Dokic
2010 4th Rd. - Samantha Stosur
2015 4th Rd. - Casey Dellacqua
2016 4th Rd. - Dasha Gavrilova
2017 4th Rd. - Dasha Gavrilova