Vengeful Pliskova out to derail Serena express
Most players would feel intimidated facing a rampaging Serena Williams for an Australian Open semi-final berth but not Czech seventh seed Katerina Pliskova, who instead harbours a desire for revenge against the American great.
The pair will meet in the last eight at the season-opening Grand Slam on Wednesday, with the day's other quarter-final pitting Japan's US Open champion Naomi Osaka against Ukrainian sixth seed Elina Svitolina.
Williams has blazed her way through the first four rounds at Melbourne Park, dropping only nine games in her opening three matches before finally encountering some resistance from top seed Simona Halep.
But even the world number one was eventually overwhelmed in three sets as an intensely focused Williams continued her quest for a record-equalling 24th major, with Halep saying facing the 37-year-old was like being hit by a freight train.
Pliskova is confident she can derail the Serena express. She's done it before at a Grand Slam when she defeated Williams in straight sets in the 2016 US Open semi-finals.
The American responded with a commanding quarter-final victory over Pliskova at Flushing Meadows in 2018, but now the Czech 26-year-old is convinced it's her turn, saying she has improved since then.
"I didn't play well that match, so for sure it would be good revenge to play her again," Pliskova said. "Different conditions here. I think I'm playing a little bit better than last year, so I'm looking forward to it."
Williams, who is chasing a record eighth Australian title to take her to 24 majors and match Margaret Court's record, said she always had good matches against the big-serving Pliskova.
"I've got to return a little bit better (against her) but I'll be ready. She's ready. Let's do it," said Williams, who is the bookies' favourite for the title despite being seeded 16.
- Difficult -
If fourth seed Osaka defeats the in-form Svitolina, she will set up a blockbuster semi-final with Williams, who infamously melted down and ranted at the umpire as the 21-year-old outgunned her in last year's US Open final.
But Svitolina will be no pushover for the young Japanese star, who has lost to the 24-year-old Ukrainian in three of their previous five meetings.
While Osaka has been hailed as the leader of a new player generation after her US Open breakthrough, Svitolina is hungry for Grand Slam success after scoring her biggest career win at the WTA Finals in Singapore last October.
Both have endured tough three-setters in their past two matches, with Svitolina crediting her victories on mental toughness instilled by the confidence-boosting win in Singapore.
"I know that I can challenge good players and I can win," she said. "You know, the Singapore week showed that I can be out there and winning tough matches."
The humble Osaka said she still felt overwhelmed at times on the Grand Slam stage and was still working out how to get past top opponents such as Svitolina.
"She's a very consistent player and when she has the chance she does like to attack. I think playing her is going to be very difficult for me," Osaka said.
© 2019 AFP