LONDON, Great Britain - No.7 seed Karolina Pliskova defeated fellow former World No.1 Victoria Azarenka for the second time in three 2018 meetings, 6-3, 6-3, to reach the third round at the All England Club for the first time.
"I still think it was not completely perfect, but it was close to, let's say, 7 or 8," a perfectionist Pliskova joked after the match. "I still think I can serve much better than I served. It was enough today. Sometimes when she doesn't push you that much, you just don't serve that well. I still think I can have better percentage, maybe more aces. I know I can feel a little bit better.
"It was so far one of my best matches on grass, for sure. She's always tough, so it's never easy."
Pliskova had fallen in the second round of Wimbledon for five straight years - most notably last year to eventual semifinalist Magdalena Rybarikova as she aimed to hit the top of the WTA rankings - but at long last reversed the trend against the Belarusian after one hour and 12 minutes on court.
— Wimbledon (@Wimbledon) July 4, 2018
"I think it's every year similar. This year I tried to not put that much pressure because last year I think I put too much, and I was seeded No.2 here. Everybody thought maybe I'm going to win. The pressure was a little bit bigger.
"This time, I was playing against good player, so the pressure was little bit also on her side today. I was playing more freely today. That's why I played better than in the first round. I didn't change many things, but I just believed. Look, I always believed that I can get far here. I don't know if third round, fourth round, but there is always a chance for me."
Since Azarenka got the better of the perennial WTA Ace Leader at the Miami Open, Pliskova has won their last two encounters here and at the Mutua Madrid Open, where, oddly enough, she had also previously failed to reach the third round before this season.
"I think this was the best match I played against her. I feel like on hardcourts she's definitely the strongest, for sure not on clay, and maybe not on grass. I still felt this was quite good match. I was expecting she's going to play little bit worse because we played in Madrid, and I think the level there was just not great from both of us.
"She's always fighting; she's never easy to beat because she's still playing, doesn't matter how she's playing, even she's playing bad level, that day she's still fighting."
Pliskova made early inroads on the Azarenka serve, breaking on her fifth opportunity and holding on to take the first set without facing a break point.
The second set went with serve until 3-3, when the 26-year-old pulled away to win the final three games of the match and reach the Round of 32 for the fourth straight major tournament.
While Azarenka struck 13 winners, the two-time Wimbledon semifinalist and 2012 Olympic Bronze medalist struggled with her rhythm on grass, making 17 unforced errors without engineering a single break point over two sets.
"I think physically I'm very fit right now," Azarenka said after the match. "Probably better than I have ever been before. But to be able to connect that with my tennis, it's been challenging and a little bit frustrating in a way, because sometimes when you're unfit or something, you're late to the ball or you're not making up steps or whatever. For me it's the opposite and too early, I'm way too early to the ball, and then I have so much time that I'm thinking too much sometimes.
"That connection needs to happen at some point. In practice, I'm able to manage it better, but in matches, it has yet to happen. But I think there is a progress from match to match, especially comparing my previous matches in Mallorca there is definitely a step forward, but it's not a finish line, for sure."
In all, Pliskova struck a solid 15 winners to 10 unforced errors to book a third round clash with Nature Valley Classic finalist and No.29 seed Mihaela Buzarnescu. Playing the Wimbledon main draw for the first time in her career, the Romanian is in the midst of career renaissance after years of injuries, knocking out British wildcard Katie Swan, 6-0, 6-3 earlier in the day.
The pair have played just once before, all the way back in 2012, with Pliskova battling past Buzarnescu in three tough sets at an ITF Pro Circuit tournament on grass in Nottingham.
"It's more about me with other players than about them," Pliskova said. "If I play well, I don't have to be scared about anybody.
"Of course, there are good players. But it's not that I'm scared. It's just that I go on the court, is going to be tough, maybe I'm not going to win, even though if I play good level. For sure, it's not that I'm scared."