MALLORCA, Spain - 18-year-old Catherine Bellis remains undefeated on grass, moving into her first ever WTA Tour semifinal in her debut pro event on the surface with a 6-3, 6-2 victory over Kristyna Pliskova at the Mallorca Open.
In a match between two of the Top 50's most recent arrivals - both players broke that barrier in May - it was the young American who got off to the better start, breaking her Czech opponent with a clean return winner in the second game of the match.
Two double faults and an errant backhand saw the 18-year-old hand the advantage straight back, but that was an anomaly: Bellis's anticipation and ability to redirect Pliskova's power at will enabled her to open up the court with beautifully spreading groundstrokes that exposed her taller opponent's movement. Overall, the World No.42 would hit 26 winners to just six unforced errors; by contrast, though Pliskova racked up 21 winners of her own, her 17 unforced errors illustrated how much more ragged her game was.
Though the 25-year-old Pliskova, playing her fifth quarterfinal of 2017 on a fourth different surface, was able to serve her way out of potential trouble a number of times, Bellis was ruthless in attacking her second serve. The World No.46 would win 68% of her first service points - but a mere 22% of her second service, as the teenager teed off to seize control of those rallies time and again.
Serving at 2-2, 30-15 in the second set, Pliskova made a disastrous misjudgment as she stood to watch a Bellis lob land well inside the baseline - and thereafter, her resistance crumbled. Two quick errors followed to hand the break to Bellis, whose all-court game continued to smother Pliskova as she accelerated into the semifinals for the loss of just two further points. There, she will face the winner of the all-German tie between Julia Goerges and Sabine Lisicki.
"It's definitely one of the biggest achievements so far in my career," grinned Bellis afterwards. The grass debutante, who arrived in Mallorca a fortnight before the tournament started in order to practice on the surface, has been pleased with her progress. "Grass suits my game," she observed. "I would say my movement was a big strength [today] - I think I got to a lot of balls and my defence was really good."
Meanwhile, in a second-round encounter delayed from yesterday due to darkness, defending champion Caroline Garcia managed to finish off a determined Jana Cepelova 6-3, 6-7(5), 6-3. The qualifier's dogged defence had dragged the No.3 seed into a deciding set yesterday, despite Garcia saving six set points, and they resumed today locked at 2-2.
Once again, the Frenchwoman's strong serving and willingness to attack with her forehand saw her leap out in front first, coming through four deuces to break her Slovak opponent for 4-2. Cepelova was not to be counted out, though, and struck back immediately.
However, Garcia - fresh off her maiden Slam quarterfinal at Roland Garros - is demonstrating more variety in her game these days, and a successful net foray saw her break Cepelova again - and this time, she made no mistake, serving her way into a quarterfinal against Roberta Vinci to love.