Defending champion Karolina Pliskova kicked off her 2018 season in stunning fashion, easing past teenage prodigy Catherine “CiCi” Bellis 6-1, 6-1 in 53 minutes to reach the quarter-finals at the Brisbane International.
Pliskova, who held the world No. 1 ranking for eight weeks last year, had been dealing with an illness in the build-up to the tournament but looked in fine form on court on Wednesday.
“I think it was quite solid. I felt okay on the court. I had some matches already in the end of the first — well, the last year. So was not, like, big hole without matches for me,” said the 25-year-old.
“So, yeah, but anyway, I was a little bit sick. So I was not really — I didn’t know how I’m going to play, how I’m going to feel. So just happy I got this win. Won quite easy. We never played. So I think good start.”
The Czech faces Estonian qualifier Kaia Kanepi, the 2012 Brisbane champion, in the quarter-finals.
Once ranked as high as No. 15 in the world, Kanepi, now No. 99, is on the comeback trail after missing nearly two years of action due to suffering from Epstein-Barr virus and plantar fasciitis in both feet.
The 32-year-old reached the quarter-finals of the US Open last fall, as a qualifier, and she booked her last-eight spot in Brisbane with a 6-4, 6-3 win over Ukraine’s Lesia Tsurenko on Wednesday.
“I think she won the tournament because I saw her on the — where I walk to the locker room. So she must like this conditions also,” Pliskova said of Kanepi.
“I think she’s playing quite similar and good serve, what I remember. So quite good shots. Pretty fast then. So I have to play aggressive and don’t let her play. So that’s now what I think, but maybe we will talk with my coach a little bit more about her.”
Meanwhile, third-seeded Elina Svitolina continued her impressive start to the season when she demolished Croatian Ana Konjuh 6-3, 6-1 to set up a quarter-final against world No. 9 Johanna Konta.
— WTA (@WTA) January 3, 2018
Svitolina took just 64 minutes to see off Konjuh at the Pat Rafter Arena.
The 23-year-old started the week as world number six but would finish it as number four if she wins the tournament. Svitolina won five tournaments in 2017 and goes into the Australian Open as a serious contender for the year’s first Grand Slam.
“I’m playing well and I’m happy that I’m showing good tennis from the start of the year,” Svitolina said. “I try to always find my good tennis out there and, you know, play well. That’s the most important thing.”
Belarusian qualifier Aliaksandra Sasnovich booked a quarter-final against Frenchwoman Alize Cornet when she beat Estonia’s Anett Kontaveit 1-6, 7-6 (2), 6-3.
Bouchard lost to ex-world No. 1 Kerber 6-1, 6-3 in just under one hour to help Germany complete a 3-0 win over Canada in the mixed team competition.
It was Kerber’s second win in as many singles matches in Perth this week and the German, who has dropped to No. 21 in the rankings after a disappointing 2017 season looks on her way back to her best.
Bouchard, a former top-five player herself, is 4-2 head-to-head against Kerber on the WTA tour but couldn’t find her consistency against her resurgent opponent.
— Hopman Cup (@hopmancup) January 3, 2018
“She’s tough. She’s a great counter-puncher but can also be aggressive and she has a great weapon in her forehand and I saw that a lot today,” said Bouchard, who is currently ranked No. 83 in the world.
“I’ve actually happened to play her a lot. She’s a great player, she’s still what, top-20 right now? It’s such a small difference from there to top-10, top-five. So I’m sure she’ll continue to do great.”
Bouchard, who lost her opener to Daria Gavrilova in Canada’s clash with Australia last Sunday, is not in a hurry to find her rhythm as she looks to rebound back to the top of the women’s game.
“It’ll take as long as it will take. I can’t worry about it. I’m trying to do my best. And however long it will take is what will happen and I’ll have to deal with that. I’m enjoying myself out there and that’s the most important thing,” said the 23-year-old.
Speaking of her match with Kerber, Bouchard added: “It was a bit of the same pattern as the first match. I think I need to like wake up in the first set. It’s because we’re playing tennis too early for me. It was okay.
“I felt I made too many errors here and there. I feel like I was a bit streaky today. In the good moments it was good but in the bad moments weren’t so good so it’s just about trying to be more consistent.”
Meanwhile, Kerber said she was pleased with her aggression on the court and looks comfortable with her new coaching set up having hired Wim Fissette at the end of last season.
“I changed a little bit actually, a few things changed in the last few weeks. First of all I have a new team around me. Just small things, another voice,” said the two-time Grand Slam champion.
“Right now my goal is just looking from day to day, match to match, and just trying to improve my game. Having a good preparation for Melbourne, that’s actually my goal, to have a lot of matches before I go to the Australian Open.”
Kerber’s partner, Alexander Zverev bounced back from his opening defeat to David Goffin by easing past Canada’s Vasek Pospisil 6-4, 6-2 before teaming up with Kerber to get the win in mixed doubles.
“I felt much better on court today in the singles. It was obvious that the first match against Goffin is not going to be easy because he’s somebody that plays pretty much the same all year long. You really have to beat him and obviously the first match of the year that’s not very easy to do. But felt much better today and I’m happy to get the singles and the mixed doubles,” said the world No. 4.
“Hopefully we can continue playing the way we’re playing. Especially Angie, I think she’s playing phenomenal right now. Hopefully we’ll still be here Saturday.”
Germany next take on Australia on Friday which will pit Kerber against Gavrilova and Zverev against Thanasi Kokkinakis, who is looking to put behind him a long battle with injuries and start the season on the right foot.
“He’s a great player,” Zverev said of the 21-year-old Kokkinakis, who is currently ranked 209 in the world.
“He’s had too many injuries, that’s why I think his ranking isn’t where it should be. But he’s going to get up there quite quickly if he stays healthy. He’s playing amazing tennis and hopefully it’s going to be an entertaining one.
“He’s a hard-working guy. I don’t know what he could have achieved but I think he definitely would have been higher than he is right now. I think he would have been top-50 definitely. And anything beyond that you’ve got to look how it goes. You’ve got to have a bit of luck, a lot of determination, even when things go well you still have got to work hard. But time will tell.”
Nick Kyrgios has voiced his support for good friend Andy Murray, who revealed the extent of his hip injury that has kept him out of action for nearly six months now.
Kyrgios, who overcame a knee problem to battle past fellow Aussie Matthew Ebden 6-7 (3), 7-6 (5), 6-2 and reach the quarter-finals at the Brisbane International on Wednesday, has struggled with a hip issue himself last year and says he pays particular attention to it in the gym to keep it under control.
“It’s pretty sad,” he said of Murray’s continued injury woes.
“I think he’s definitely a fan favourite. He brings a lot of the people to all these tournaments. And he’s a good friend of mine. And it’s just sad seeing him, you know, a guy like that getting injured. Because you saw him at Wimbledon struggling and, obviously, been struggling ever since. And it sucks, you know, seeing him not being able to get it right. He’s been rehabbing now for almost five months.
“And it’s never good seeing a guy like that get injured, especially because, you know, he’s just good for the sport. He’s a good guy as well.
“So I don’t know what he’s going to do. I don’t know. I’m not an expert, but hopefully he can get better.”
Like many players, including Novak Djokovic, Rafael Nadal, Caroline Garcia and Barbora Strycova, Kyrgios commented with words of support on the emotional Instagram post Murray sent out discussing his hip injury.
“He tends to rip me a little bit on Instagram. I was going to maybe take a low blow at the picture, but, nah, I thought it was a good time to maybe show some sympathy,” said Kyrgios.
“But, yeah, it was emotional. I read the whole thing. And obviously a lot of players commented as well because they all know that he’s a great guy. And, you know, he’s a guy that’s always wondering how you are and how you’re going. And I’m sure a lot of people want to see him back at the top of the game.”
Kyrgios noted that a player like Murray, whose movement is one of his greatest assets, can be significantly hampered because of a hip issue and the 22-year-old said when it came to his own injury, he is doing everything possible to avoid surgery.
“I don’t think anyone ever really wants to get cut open. That’s the absolute last resort. You don’t really know the success rate of anything like that. So it’s tough. It’s very scary,” added Kyrgios.
On Wednesday on Pat Rafter Arena, Kyrgios finished his tough three-setter with his left leg heavily strapped.
” I had been feeling pretty good coming into the tournament. I’ve been doing a lot of good work,” said the world No. 21, who next faces Ukraine’s Alexandr Dolgopolov.
“And then a couple days out I was playing some points with Lleyton (Hewitt) and then I kind of felt my knee a bit and been kind of nursing it the last day or two but didn’t really know what it was.
“And had a bit of fluid in there a couple days leading up to the singles. So didn’t really know what it was, but it wasn’t really — it doesn’t really hurt me when I move. Just when I’m kind of straightening my leg.
“So I knew that, you know, it was going to be a tough battle today. First match of the year. Obviously a bit rusty, but I’m just happy to get through it. But I’m sure it will be fine.”