Karolina Pliskova will attempt to set up a Qatar Total Open semi-final clash with Dominika Cibulkova later on Friday when she faces Zhang Shuai in the quarter-finals in rainy Doha.
Currently an intimidating 12-1 on the season, Czech powerhouse Karolina Pliskova targets the semi-finals in Doha on Friday against Chinese former Australian Open quarter-finalist Zhang Shuai.
Other than a somewhat disappointing loss to Mirjana Lucic-Baroni in the Australian Open quarter-finals, Pliskova has enjoyed a near-flawless start to 2017. Pliskova began the year in ominous form at the Brisbane International, dropping just one set en route to her seventh WTA title, including crushing Alize Cornet in the final for the loss of just three games.
Pliskova continued her red-hot form into Melbourne, where she advanced to the third round of the Australian Open by losing just two games in her opening two rounds. However things got progressively harder from that stage. Pliskova was fortunate to recover a 5-2 deficit in the final set of her third round showdown with Jelena Ostapenko before eventually prevailing 10-8 in the third, and while she was again clinical in dispatching Daria Gavrilova in straight sets to reach the quarter-finals, Pliskova’s run was ultimately ended by the inspirational Lucic-Baroni in three sets.
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Nevertheless, after breaking her grand slam Round of 32 hoodoo in emphatic fashion at the US Open last year, Pliskova still made a quarter-final in Melbourne for the first time, and early signs indicate that the big-hitting 24-year-old will remain a genuine contender at this year’s biggest events - including this week’s Premier tournament in Doha.
Pliskova returned to action for Czech Republic in Fed Cup last weekend, continuing her blistering form with straight sets wins over Lara Arrubarrena and Garbine Muguruza - her fifth straight win over the French Open champion. Pliskova made the quick dash to Doha and due to the persistent rain, only played her opening match on Thursday - a fairly straightforward 7-5 6-4 victory over Caroline Garcia.
Now, for a shot at Dominika Cibulkova later on Friday, Pliskova must navigate past the challenge of Shuai Zhang.
Zhang Shuai (Photo by WILLIAM WEST/AFP/Getty Images)
Chinese No. 1 Zhang registered one of the biggest wins of her career to secure her spot in the Qatar Total Open quarter-finals, upstaging French Open winner Muguruza 7-6 3-6 7-5 on Wednesday. Zhang, who had earlier conquered Timea Babos in straight sets, produced some thunderous hitting from the baseline to topple Muguruza and reach her fourth Premier-level quarter-final.
It was Zhang’s first back-to-back wins of the season, while the win also marked her fifth career top 10 triumph after she previously downed Dinara Safina, Petra Kvitova and Simona Halep twice.
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Currently ranked 31 in the world, Zhang is probably still best known for her fairytale run to the Australian Open quarter-finals last year, where she won her first grand slam match by beating Simona Halep in the opening round after coming through qualifying. Zhang also made the semi-finals of the season-ending WTA Elite Trophy in Zhuhai last year, along with another final four finish at Tokyo and a quarter-final appearance in Beijing.
Zhang couldn’t back up her 2016 Australian Open exploits this year, falling in the second round in Melbourne to Alison Riske, while she also suffered early losses at Brisbane (Cibulkova) and Sydney (Bouchard).
Pliskova has won all three of their previous meetings, although their last clash was on clay in 2015, while the other two were in Dubai qualifying in 2014 and an ITF event in Nantes in 2012. Both are far better players today, so you can’t really taking anything from those encounters. But you really can’t tip against Pliskova on her current form. She’s been ruthless for the most part in 2017, and although Zhang’s win over Muguruza was mightily impressive, I don’t think she can record back-to-back top 10 wins for the first time.