PARIS, France - No.2 seed Karolina Pliskova continued to make efficient progress through the Roland Garros draw, defeating qualifier Kristina Kucova 6-2, 6-2 in just 56 minutes.
Champion in Rome two weeks ago, the Czech landed 76% of her first serves and struck 29 winners to extend her streak of match victories to seven against an old foe - and one who has proved rather more troublesome in the past. The pair first met over a decade ago in 2008 in somewhat less grand environs, with a 16-year-old Pliskova battling to a 3-6, 6-3, 7-6(5) win in the first round of qualifying for the ITF W75 event in Zlin, Czech Republic. Two further meetings - in the first round of the Zlin main draw one year later, but also in the first round of Tianjin in 2015 when Pliskova had ensconced herself in the Top 10 - would also go the distance.
A repeat of those challenges loomed early on as Kucova carved out the first break point opportunity in the third game. But one unreturned serve and two aces later, Pliskova had snuffed out the danger as soon as it had arisen - and would not face another break point for the rest of the match.
The former World No.1 was dominant for the remainder of the first set, striking her forehand with a lethal confidence and capturing the Kucova serve twice in the sixth and eighth games, both times sealing the break by unleashing on a return.
World No.203 Kucova has been beset by injuries for the past two years, but the 2016 Montréal semifinalist has been showing signs of returning to her Top 100 form of late. Ranked as low as World No.366 last year, she has notched up two wins over former Grand Slam champions in the past eight months - Jelena Ostapenko in Hong Kong last October and Svetlana Kuznetsova in the first round this week - as well as winning the Dothan ITF W80 event as a qualifier in April.
The Slovak raised her game as the second set got under way, coming up with a number of highlights as she attempted to stem the Pliskova tide: a delicate drop volley in the fourth game, a clubbed double-handed forehand to seal that hold.
But Kucova's efforts were not repaid by any correlated downturn in Pliskova's form. The 2017 semifinalist lapped up Kucova's increased pace, at one point reflexing a brilliant backhand winner down the line off it, and came forward to cut off any thoughts the former World No.71 may have had about resorting to the dropshot. There, Pliskova would excel as well, winning 10 of her 12 net points today.
With Pliskova's serve impregnable - the 2016 US Open runner-up lost just four points behind it in the second set - Kucova would pay the price for even the slightest lapse. A second double fault led to a break point in the sixth game, which Pliskova once again snatched by pounding an off backhand return winner away; and, in a repeat of the first set's pattern, Kucova was again broken while serving to stay in it. An imperious drive volley set up match point for Pliskova, and a flicked forehand winner off a Kucova dropshot sealed victory in style.
Up next for the 27-year-old will be a tough third-round draw of either No.31 seed Petra Martic or 2017 quarterfinalist Kristina Mladenovic - both of whom have been rounding into some seriously impressive form during this year's clay swing.