BRISBANE, Australia - Two-time Brisbane International champion Karolina Pliskova got off to a winning start on Thursday, shaking off a second set hiccup to kick off her 2020 season with a 6-4, 6-7(5), 6-1 win over Australia's Ajla Tomljanovic.
Afterwards, the World No.2 said she was relieved to have finally got on court, having arrived in Brisbane on 29 December in order to acclimatize. "The conditions are just so different here, so no point of staying in Europe, really," she pointed out. "I just wanted to be here a little bit before. It was maybe too much... I felt I'm here forever without really having a match."
The wait, she said, had taken a little bit of a toll. "Not really nervous... but of course not my best performance," she assessed her form. "I think I could do better, but overall the main stuff, like serve, was fine. Maybe struggling with the return. But also have to say she was serving great today - she went also for her second serves, and a lot first serves, especially in the second set. But I managed to wait for my chances and... in the third set I got some chances, some mistakes, and I think I played just solid."
Pliskova was playing her first singles match of the season, having ended a solid 2019 at Shiseido WTA Finals Shenzhen, where she fell in the semifinals to eventual champion Ashleigh Barty, and navigated through three tense sets against Tomljanovic to ultimately emerge victorious in just over two hours on Patrick Rafter Arena.
Pliskova and Tomljanovic played three times last year, with the self-styled Ace Queen winning all three matches, dropping just one set at this very tournament back in January - the start of a title run that made for another positive memory on the east coast of Australia. "There is not many tournaments which I won two times - actually only here in Brisbane, so I have to enjoy it," Pliskova laughed. "And of course great memories, great matches I've played, always."
Playing aggressive tennis off the return, Pliskova engineered a break point in the Aussie's opening service game and eventually broke two games later. Tomljanovic was on court following countrywoman Barty's defeat to American qualifier Jennifer Brady; keen to give the home crowd something to cheer about, she kept battling, navigating through another tricky serve game to level the set at four games apiece.
The No.2 seed was undaunted, trading powerful baseline blows with Tomljanovic to break straight back and saving a break point in the following game to serve out the opening set.
The second set went entirely with serve, with neither player facing a break point even as Pliskova twice served to stave off a decider; two points from a third set, the Czech powerhouse ran off four straight points to force a tie-break and score the first mini-break of the ensuing Sudden Death.
Tomljanovic soon steadied and reversed the trend as she won six of the next seven points to put herself a point from leveling the match, doing so on her third opportunity.
"She was playing great, I think maybe the best match against me," recalled Pliskova afterwards. "At least I managed to stay in the tiebreak. I think I could do better in the tiebreak - I started well but then I missed a couple opportunities. I knew it's not going to be like this all match. And actually sometimes you don't have to really miss many things just to lose. She just played a little bit better in the second set and I think maybe here and there if I do two more points the set would be mine. But at least I spent more time on the courts, practicing some stuff!"
Pliskova responded in emphatic fashion racing through the first three games of the final set in under 10 minutes and only improved from there, outrallying the Aussie to earn a double break advantage. She put away a strong backhand to bring up two match points on her own serve. Tomljanovic saved the first with a backhand winner of her own, but Pliskova wouldn't be denied, making it over the finish line with an unreturnable serve.
In all, she struck 39 winners to just 13 unforced errors, including an impressive 12 aces; Tomljanovic made 23 winners of her own but hit 18 unforced errors and could only muster just one break of Pliskova's serve.
Standing between the defending champion and a return to the semifinals is 2019 Dongfeng Motor Wuhan Open runner-up Alison Riske, who eased past Barbora Strycova on Wednesday. Pliskova has won seven out of eight total meetings with the American - including two on hardcourts last season - but their most recent encounter at the Rogers Cup in Toronto went three sets.
"I won, I think, the last or maybe all the matches we played, I don't know," Pliskova commented. "But everything was kind of close, there were some three-setters, some tiebreaks - we play a lot of tiebreaks, I think. But I think she really improved in the last year, so she really went up in the rankings. And she's beating good players, so it's not going to be easy. But I know how to beat her, so I just have to do my stuff and then we will see."