PRAGUE, Czech Republic - Kristyna Pliskova was in untouchable form to deliver the biggest upset of the Prague Open so far, ousting No.2 seed Petra Martic 6-1, 7-5 in the second round after one hour and 22 minutes.
It was a remarkably clean performance from the World No.69, during which Pliskova struck 28 winners to just 13 unforced errors, resulting in her seventh career Top 20 win - and second of the season following her upset of Aryna Sabalenka in Shenzhen to start the year. It also continues what has been a marked turnaround in claycourt pedigree over the last few years for the Czech. Having lost 12 of her first 13 WTA main draw matches on the surface between 2007 and 2017, a run to the 2017 Prague final sparked joy on the terre battue at last for Pliskova: today's win seals her eighth WTA clay quarterfinal or better since then, more than on all other surfaces combined in the same timeframe.
"I feel I'm playing better on clay each year," Pliskova asserted afterwards. "Everybody was saying I cannot move and stuff, but I don't think it's like this - I have more time, so it's good for me that clay is not that fast, I can focus on my game.
"We grew up on clay, we practised on clay, we played every tournament on clay, and everybody was saying we would be better on grass or hard courts - but I was still thinking my preference was that it was slow. So then I started working a bit on the movement and other things, not just the serve and return - now I'm getting more confident on clay."
The home player looked thoroughly at ease during a spellbinding purple patch of a 21-minute opening set. Pliskova dominated from the outset, winning the first game with four unreturned serves and taking nine of the first 10 points en route to a 3-0 lead. Two break points in the third game were swatted away by heavy groundstrokes, and though Martic briefly made an impact with a flurry of dropshots, Pliskova became impregnable again at the end of the set, closing it out with three consecutive aces - including on a second serve on set point.
Fast starts are becoming a habit for Pliskova this week, who dispatched 15-year-old wildcard Linda Fruhvirtova 6-2, 7-5 in the previous round. "The first sets are amazing from my side," she agreed afterwards. "Hardly missing any balls and the serve is there almost every time I need it. I feel I'm struggling a little bit in the second set, so that's where I have to work on more - but I still won two times in two sets. But for me, it's great playing first on - there is a warm-up at 10am and a little bit of time to change and have a quick shower, so there is not too much time to think about the match. The timing is good for me."
Despite the similarities in scoreline, the challenges posed by the junior World No.20 and the experienced Martic were very different. "The first round was tough more mentally than physically," said Pliskova. "She's 15, so there is not much she can do when I play well, so it was more about me - but today, Petra has some weapons, so I knew that even I played well I could also lose, so it was different."
Martic was able to make the second set a much tighter affair, with the efficacy of her first serve a key improvement: the Croat would win 70% of the points behind it in the second stanza compared to 56% in the first. Surviving a three-deuce tussle, saving a break point in the process, in the third game was also crucial in setting a different kind of tone for last week's Palermo semifinalist.
However, Martic was still unable to make a meaningful impact on the Pliskova delivery. The 28-year-old also fended off a break point in the fourth game with a service winner, and - serving from behind - would not face another thereafter. In total, Pliskova would win 86% of her first serve points and hammer down nine aces.
A marathon five-deuce game would prove decisive. Martic valiantly fended off the first three break points against her with strong serving, but Pliskova had upped the ante irresistibly off the ground, coming up with a series of winners - including an off forehand stunner on her fourth break opportunity - to move ahead 6-5 before closing out the match with little trouble.