After winning the first set Monday at the 2020 Tokyo Olympic Games, Karolina Pliskova lost a second-set tiebreaker to sentimental favorite Carla Suarez Navarro – at love.
With all the momentum working against her, Pliskova pivoted swiftly and rallied to win 6-3, 6-7(0), 6-1 to advance to the Round of 16 at the Tokyo Olympics.
While the No.5-seeded Pliskova is, admittedly, a streaky player, one of the many things that makes tennis great is its volatility. It may seem like you’re winning, but the path to losing may have already been established. And vice versa. Sometimes, that momentum seems to come out of the thin air. Or disappear into it.
On Day 3, after the first seven completed matches all went to the favored players, chaos ensued. No. 3 Aryna Sabalenka, No.6 Iga Swiatek and No.10 Petra Kvitova all went down in the singles tournament.
Day 4 at the Ariake Tennis Park on Tuesday (Monday at 10 p.m. ET) promises to offer more surprises with eight intriguing matches.
#Tokyo2020 women's singles R16:— ITF (@ITFTennis) July 26, 2021
🇪🇸 Sorribes Tormo vs Pavlyuchenkova 🇷🇺
🇨🇭 Bencic vs Krejcikova 🇨🇿
🇭🇷 Vekic vs Rybakina 🇰🇿
🇧🇪 Van Uytvanck vs Muguruza 🇪🇸
🇨🇿 Pliskova vs Giorgi 🇮🇹
🇬🇷 Sakkari vs Svitolina 🇺🇦
🇪🇸 Badosa vs Podoroska 🇦🇷
🇨🇿 Vondrousova vs Osaka 🇯🇵#Tennis | #Olympics pic.twitter.com/hwLzX78dxE
To review: Six of the top 10 seeds remain standing, and nine of 16 overall. Three seeded major champions – No.1 Ashleigh Barty, Swiatek and Kvitova, the only player in the draw with an Olympic singles medal, are out. Donna Vekic, ranked No.50, Alison Van Uytvanck (No.59) and Camila Giorgi (No.61) are still in.
For those of you keeping score at home, Spain and the Czech Republic are dominating the international scoreboard. They each have three players left.
Spain: No.7 Garbiñe Muguruza, Paula Badosa and Sara Sorribes Tormo.
Czech Republic: No.5 Pliskova, No.8 Barbora Krejcikova, and Marketa Vondrousova.
No other country has more than one.
Let’s get to the matches, where three are first-time encounters:
No.2 Naomi Osaka vs. Marketa Vondrousova
Two rounds in, this is clearly Osaka’s tournament to win. After missing 56 days following her withdrawal from the French Open, this was not an obvious conclusion. She defeated Viktorija Golubic 6-3, 6-2 on Monday and has yet to drop a set.
Osaka continues to process the idea that a gold medal would send her host country into all kinds of happy hysterics.
“I put this pressure on myself to do well because I know that I don’t play that many tournaments,” Osaka told reporters afterward. “For me, I feel like I’ve watched these players playing the tournaments while I was on my break, so I just really, really want to do well.”
Osaka has won four of the past nine majors she’s played in, one in each of the past four years: the 2018 US Open, 2019 Australian Open, 2020 US Open and 2021 Australian Open. All on hardcourts, like Tokyo. Sliced another way, Osaka has won four of the past six majors she’s played on hardcourts.
In the context of her life, this would probably surpass those titles.
After a harrowing three-set victory in the first round, Vondrousova eased into the third round with a 6-1, 6-2 win over Mihaela Buzarnescu.
“I feel like, as long as I work hard, relatively keep my head down, then good things will happen,” Osaka said. “For me, it’s a dream to be here, to play the Olympics. This is my first time. I’m just trying to cherish this experience.”
No.4 Elina Svitolina vs. No.14 Maria Sakkari
This is one of only two matches that feature two seeded players.
Svitolina was married last week to French star Gael Monfils, but she’s managed to navigate two tricky three-set matches to reach the third round. After dropping the first set, she came back Monday to beat Ajla Tomljanovic 4-6, 6-3, 6-4.
Sakkari has been solid, beating Anett Kontaveit and Nina Stojanovic in straight sets.
Head-to-head: Sakkari, 2-1 (a 6-3, 6-3 win in 2020 Ostrava gave Sakkari the edge).
No.5 Karolina Pliskova vs. Camila Giorgi
Strictly based on ranking, Giorgi is the longest shot left.
This will be the eighth career meeting between these two. Interestingly, Giorgi won the most recent encounter – a 6-3, 6-3 victory in Eastbourne last month. After qualifying, she beat Pliskova in the first round and Sabalenka to reach the semifinals, where she fell to Kontaveit.
Pliskova, who played in the final at Wimbledon, won in the only major meeting, a three-set affair at the 2019 Australian Open.
Head-to-head: Pliskova, 5-2.
No.7 Garbiñe Muguruza vs. Alison Van Uytvanck
The draw has opened up considerably for the 27-year-old Spaniard, with Barty, Sabalenka and Kvitova gone from her top half. Muguruza has yet to drop a set after beating Wang Qiang 6-3, 6-0.
Van Uytvanck, a 27-year-old Belgian, stunned Kvitova 5-7, 6-3, 6-0 in the second round. Last month, she won a $100,000 ITF event in Nottingham but entered the Olympics with a 9-9 singles record at the WTA level.
Muguruza won the most recent meeting, 6-2, 6-0 at the Melbourne 500 earlier this year, but in 2018 Van Uytvanck stunned the defending champion Muguruza at Wimbledon 7-5, 2-6, 6-1.
Head-to-head: Muguruza, 3-1.
No. 8 Barbora Krejcikova vs. No.9 Belinda Bencic
In theory, as close as it gets. They’re ranked No. 11 and No.12 among WTA players and have never played.
Krejcikova, the newly minted French Open champion, has won 22 of 23 matches – and played less than three sets after advancing to the second round, when Zarina Diyas retired and she defeated Leylah Fernandez 6-2, 6-4.
Bencic won all four sets against Jessica Pegula and Misaki Doi. Playing for Switzerland, which produced Martina Hingis, Roger Federer and Stan Wawrinka, Bencic understands the expectations.
“I definitely don’t feel it,” Bencic told reporters. “I think in a country like we have with Switzerland, I think the people are expecting very much. They are very, how do you say in nice words … spoiled to have good results.
“I’m just really grateful that I can be one of them. I’m not taking it as a pressure, but as a privilege.”
No. 13 Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova vs. Sara Sorribes Tormo
Sorribes Tormo, the 24-year-old Spaniard, played the match of her life when she beat No.1 Barty in the first round.
“I still have goosebumps. It’s amazing,” Sorribes Tormo said afterward. “It’s the best victory in my career, for sure. Because of the place, for who she is, because of what the Olympics means to me and because of playing for Spain.”
Sorribes Tormo seems to thrive in these international situations. In February 2020, she beat Osaka in a Billie Jean King Cup qualifying match.
Pavlyuchenkova’s recent career-high moment? Reaching the final at Roland Garros, beating Sabalenka, Victoria Azarenka and Elena Rybakina on the way.
Head-to-head: Pavlyuchenkova, 2-1 (but not played since 2017 Mallorca).
No.15 Elena Rybakina vs. Donna Vekic
At 22, Rybakina of Kazakhstan is the youngest player left in the draw and already one of the world’s best players.
She’s ranked No.20 and coming off a fourth-round appearance at Wimbledon – and a career-best quarterfinal at the French Open.
Vekic produced one of the biggest upsets so far, eliminating No.3 Sabalenka 6-4, 3-6, 7-6 (3). Ranked No.50, Vekic entered the event with a 7-7 singles record, which includes a fourth-round effort at the Australian Open.
This will be their first matchup.
Paula Badosa vs. Nadia Podoroska
Badosa is in the midst of a terrific season, winning her 28th match in a 6-3, 7-6 (4) second-round upset of No.6 seed Swiatek. The 23-year-old Spaniard reached the quarterfinals at Roland Garros (a career best) and the fourth round at Wimbledon.
Podoroska, though, also has an impressive French Open effort on her resume. She beat Krejcikova and Svitolina to reach the semifinals last fall, before losing to eventual champion Swiatek.
This is the only matchup between two unseeded players.
Head-to-head: Badosa, 1-0 (qualifying, 2014 Tampico).