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Karolina Pliskova vs Barbora Strycova Nature Valley International tennis live: Defending champion Pliskova faces tough Strycova test in second round

Andrew Hendrie in WTA Tour 26 Jun 2018
  • Karolina Pliskova vs Barbora Strycova is live from Eastbourne around 3.30pm local time/BST on Wednesday
  • Pliskova has won three of their four previous meetings - but Strycova won their only match on grass in 2016
Karolina Pliskova (Photo by GLYN KIRK/AFP/Getty Images)

Karolina Pliskova continues her Nature Valley International title defence in Eastbourne on Wednesday against countrywoman Barbora Strycova.

Second seed and defending champion Karolina Pliskova targets the Nature Valley International quarter-finals in Eastbourne on Wednesday when she takes on fellow Czech star Barbora Strycova in the second round. Pliskova has experienced an up-and-down season in 2018 and is struggling for consistency as she aims for back-to-back grass-court wins for the first time this season. Strycova meanwhile has bounced back strongly from a terrible start to the season and is coming off a nice semi-final run in Birmingham last week - could she upset her compatriot on Wednesday? Pliskova and Strycova take to court around 3.30pm local time/BST.

A sign of just how much Pliskova is struggling at the moment came during her Eastbourne opener on Monday, with the Czech dropping a set to Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova for the first time in six career meetings. In fact, Pavlyuchenkova won two more points than Pliskova throughout the contest, but the defending champion managed to claim the key points and play the better tennis during the critical moments as she came away with a 6-4 2-6 6-3 victory to move into the second round.

"It is tough to come in defending a title, but I was happy to get three sets on this court and a win today," Pliskova said after the match. 
"I have good memories the past two years, because I made the final and won the title last year, and I like this tournament so much. I was getting used to [conditions] during the match, so hopefully the next one can be a little bit better."

It was around this time last year when Pliskova experienced the best moment of her career - securing the No. 1 ranking. An Eastbourne title followed, but Pliskova was knocked out in the second round of Wimbledon by Magdalena Rybarikova (the Slovakian also beat her in the first round of Birmingham last week) - and the 26-year-old hasn’t really made it back to her best level ever since, registering wins over top 10 players at just four tournaments in the last 12 months.

Pliskova was seemingly going through the motions as she failed to beat a top 20 player until Stuttgart, but she turned things around superbly in the German city, producing a series of thunderous performances to win her first clay title outside of her native Czech Republic, beating Jelena Ostapenko, Anett Kontaveit and CoCo Vandeweghe on her way to the silverware. Pliskova would continue her electric form into the Mutua Madrid Open soon after, putting together a career-best nine-match winning streak as she scored some big wins over Victoria Azarenka, Sloane Stephens and World No. 1 Simona Halep to reach the semi-finals, but she was ultimately stopped by on-fire Fed Cup teammate and eventual Madrid champion Petra Kvitova in straight sets.

But Pliskova’s form dipped again after that, suffering an opening round exit in Rome, losing 6-2 6-1 to Maria Sharapova in the third round of Roland Garros and going down in her first match in Birmingham last week. After a battling win in her Eastbourne opener, is Pliskova in danger of another early exit on Wednesday?

Barbora Strycova (Photo by Jordan Mansfield/Getty Images for LTA)
Quite possibly. Barbora Strycova is an excellent grass-court player and is rounding into some great form after a tough start to the year. The 32-year-old made the semi-finals in Birmingham last week, conquering Garbine Muguruza in straight sets before losing to Rybarikova, while she got her Eastbourne campaign off to a nice start, easing past the dangerous Donna Vekic 6-1 6-4. Strycova also played well in Eastbourne last year, demolishing Muguruza 6-1 6-0 before going down in the quarter-finals in three sets to Heather Watson.

A former runner-up on the grass of Birmingham and a winner of two WTA International titles throughout her career, Strycova made her one and only Grand Slam quarter-final at Wimbledon in 2014, with the Czech beating Elena Vesnina, second seed Li Na and Caroline Wozniacki before going down to eventual champion and compatriot Petra Kvitova 6-1 7-5 in the last eight. Strycova has since carved out an extremely consistent career, reaching multiple Grand Slam fourth rounds and hitting a career-high ranking of No. 16 in 2016.

Although it’s been a challenging 2018 for the most part - Strycova made quarter-finals in Auckland and Sydney to start the season (and the fourth round of the Australian Open), but she then went on a seven-match winning streak before finally returning to the winners circle with an unlikely run to the Round of 16 at Roland Garros for the first time last month.

So all things considered, Strycova has won more matches than Pliskova recently and appears to be in slightly better form at the moment. Pliskova has won three of their four career meetings - but, significantly, Strycova won their only clash on grass, prevailing in straight sets in the first round of Birmingham in 2016. Strycova also took a set off Pliskova in the Round of 16 at the Australian Open. The lower-ranked Czech has the game to frustrate Pliskova, especially in this sort of form, and if she makes her play a lot of balls and Pliskova’s radar is off from the baseline, I can easily see Strycova pulling off the upset.

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Karolina Pliskova vs Barbora Strycova Nature Valley International tennis live: Defending champion Pliskova faces tough Strycova test in second round

Karolina Pliskova continues her Nature Valley International title defence in Eastbourne on Wednesday against countrywoman Barbora Strycova.

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