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Karolina Pliskova vs Catherine Bellis Qatar Total Open tennis live: Pliskova takes on talented teenager Bellis in Doha

Hannah Wilks in WTA Tour 14 Feb 2018
  • Karolina Pliskova continues her title defense vs Catherine 'CiCi' Bellis at the Qatar Total Open on Thursday
  • Pliskova vs Bellis Qatar Total Open tennis is live from Doha on Thursday at 3.30pm local/12.30pm GMT
Karolina Pliskova (Photo by Clive Brunskill/Getty Images)

Karolina Pliskova continues her WTA Doha title defense as she faces Catherine ‘CiCi’ Bellis for a place in the quarterfinals of the Qatar Total Open on Thursday.

Despite recent illness, Karolina Pliskova targets a return to the Qatar Total Open quarterfinals she takes on young American Catherine Bellis in the third round.

World no. 5 Pliskova won the eighth title of her career in Doha 12 months ago, beating Caroline Garcia, Dominika Cibulkova and Caroline Wozniacki to lift the Premier-level title – part of a journey which started when she won Cincinnati and reached the 2016 US Open final, and which saw the tall, big-serving Czech make semifinals in Indian Wells, Miami and at the French Open and win the Eastbourne title to claim the world no. 1 ranking for the first time. 

One of five women to hold the ranking throughout the season, Pliskova’s reign at the top got off to an inauspicious start as she inherited the no. 1 spot after losing in the second round at Wimbledon, and she swiftly surrendered it to Garbine Muguruza. Never looking totally comfortable, Pliskova made the semifinals of Cincinnati and the quarterfinals of the US Open, but before long she had split with her coach. A brief partnership with Rennae Stubbs saw Pliskova end the year on a good note with a run to the semifinals of the WTA Finals Singapore, but the brush with the no. 1 ranking still seemed to have dented the Czech’s confidence despite her phlegmatic demeanour.

Pliskova’s consistency is underrated, however – she’s got at least to the quarterfinals of her last eight tournaments, for example – and it’s been a solid start to the 2018 season with new coach Tomas Krupa (successor to David Kotyza). The season started, in point of fact, with a 6-1, 6-1 victory for Pliskova over Thursday’s opponent Bellis in Brisbane, where Elina Svitolina ended the Czech’s title defense in the semifinals. Pliskova went on to make the quarterfinals of the Australian Open, surviving two tough battles with fellow Czechs Barbora Strycova and Lucie Safarova, before running straight into what is a nightmare match-up for her – Simona Halep, the top seed, who ended Pliskova’s run in straight sets.

Pliskova was scheduled to lead a formidable Czech Republic team in their Fed Cup tie against Switzerland at the weekend, but was forced to pull out when she contracted a stomach illness. Fortunately the Czech Republic enjoys an incredibly deep bench in women’s tennis, and Pliskova’s compatriots Strycova and Petra Kvitova had wrapped up a 3-0 victory before the world no. 5 even needed to consider taking the court for the reverse singles or deciding doubles.

‘I've been practicing [since Australia],’ Pliskova said in Doha. ‘We had Fed Cup in our country last week, but even as I was sick, I still tried to stay fit so I could be ready for these two tournaments here and in Dubai.’

The defending champion certainly looked in good form as she opened her campaign with a 6-2, 6-3 victory over wily veteran Alize Cornet, surrendering early breaks in both sets but experiencing little difficulty in recovering them and finishing strongly with 24 winners to 11 unforced errors in the 70-minute match. 

‘I feel confident,’ Pliskova said immediately after the match. ‘Even though I wasn't playing the last few days because I was sick, I was feeling good on the court today. I think it was a good start at the tournament for me. It's not an easy draw this year, so I'll try to take it step by step and play as many matches as I can.’

Pliskova was projected to meet Madison Keys, a fellow US Open finalist in the third round, but instead faces another American – in this case qualifier Catherine Bellis, who came back from a set down to score a shock victory over Keys on Wednesday.

Bellis, now 18 years old, came to prominence as a 15-year-old wildcard ranked world no. 1208 at the 2014 US Open when she defeated 12th seed Dominika Cibulkova in the first round, and has kept on climbing, resisting the temptation of college tennis, turning pro and breaking into the top 100 at the very end of 2016 after a quarterfinal in Stanford (where she beat Jelena Ostapenko) and a third-round showing at the US Open, as well as a 15-match winning streak that saw her win a trio of titles at the ITF $50k in Saguenay, the $50k in Toronto and the WTA 125k in Honolulu.
Bellis only played 16 events in 2017 but nevertheless made her top-50 debut after semifinals in Mallorca and Stanford, quarterfinals in Dubai and Rabat and third-round finishes at the French Open, Toronto and the US Open. So far in 2018, the world no. 48 lost in the second round of Brisbane to Pliskova, successfully qualified for the Apia International Sydney where she reached the second round but lost in the first round of the Australian Open at the hands of Kiki Bertens. The teenager has bounced back with this Doha run, however, reaching the main draw by coming through qualifying before moving past Daria Kasatkina when the Russian retired and rebounding from a one-sided first set against Madison Keys to reel off the last seven games of the match and win 2-6, 6-3, 6-0. 

‘I think maybe halfway into the second set it started shifting a bit. I think I got a little lucky on a few balls the wind took, and I think she shanked a few,’ Bellis said.

‘I think that was big in the second set, and then the third I just really started to get a good rhythm, making a lot of first serves. She was attacking my first and second a lot in the first set, and then once I started making more first serves, that helped me a lot too.’

The windy conditions in Doha – especially on the outer courts – have been tricky for the big hitters, but fortunately for Pliskova, Thursday’s match will be on Centre Court and the Czech will be hoping to reprise her one-sided 6-1, 6-1 victory over Bellis in their only previous meeting at the Brisbane International.

‘We played not too long ago. I remember the match, and I'll have to play aggressive because she runs very well at the baseline. I still have to play my game, serve better than I did today, and hopefully I can win that match,’ Pliskova said.

Pliskova vs Bellis Qatar Total Open tennis is live from Doha on Thursday at 3.30pm local/12.30pm GMT

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Karolina Pliskova vs Catherine Bellis Qatar Total Open tennis live: Pliskova takes on talented teenager Bellis in Doha

Defending champion Karolina Pliskova is out to reprise a one-sided victory over talented American teenager Catherine Bellis in their only previous meeting: WTA Qatar Total Open tennis live from Doha

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